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Hairy Mygalomorph

Summertime has a different meaning for everyone, but for the insect lover, they know that means they’ll be seeing a lot more. Birds and lizards love this time of year as well because it means more opportunities for food. Here at the Havasi Wilderness Foundation, we have the pleasure of seeing a wide variety of insects and spiders and how they coexist in the habitat.

Recently we’ve seen this guy, a Hairy Mygalomorph, from the tarantula family. It might seem scary because of our own association with spiders, and movies like Arachnophobia (at least for me) but it’s actually quite harmless and one of the biggest assets to our chaparral. First of all, they are harmless and don’t bite unless mishandled. Many people have them as pets, and some state parks are so sure of the gentleness of these misunderstood creatures, they even show visitors how to handle them. These spiders are generally nocturnal and live in burrows, coming out at night to feed on other insects. As predators, they are an asset because they help to control the insect population.

Velvet Ant

Now this cute and furry one you definitely want to stay away from. It looks like an ant, and is known as a Velvet Ant, but it’s actually a wasp. Male and female velvet ants are different, and it is this difference that is very important to understand. The male doesn’t sting, but has wings and is able to fly. The female on the other hand, cannot fly, but if stung, will be very painful. Another nickname for the velvet ant is the “cow killer.” Although its sting has never actually killed a cow, the amount of pain has been referred to as, “strong enough to kill a cow.” So if you see one of these velvet ants near you, and it doesn’t have wings, don’t kill it, just proceed with caution.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Some of the most interesting insects you’ll see are butterflies. I say this because of the metamorphosis they go through. It is a real privilege being able to witness the different stages like the larva, the caterpillar, the chrysalis and the butterfly, each of which have a unique defense to predators. The larva is usually placed under the leaf of a plant, since it is completely defenseless and immobile. The caterpillar stage is an interesting one. This stage has 5 phases called instars, which are the periods between molting. Let’s look at the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, which is one of the most common butterflies you’ll see. During it’s first 3 instar phases, the caterpillar is brown which is meant to mimic bird poop and avoid predators. After the molting of the third phase, the caterpillar turns green, and develops eyespots. These patterns on the caterpillar are meant to look like eyes which is another defense technique. This caterpillar, like all members of the papilionidae have an osmeterium. The osmeterium is an orange, flesh looking organ that emits a foul odor which is also used to deter predation. In the final molting stage the caterpillars attach themselves to trees using silk and molt into the chrysalis stage. From the cocoon they emerge into the beautiful butterflies you see today.

These are just a few of the many insects you’ll see and hear. Be on the look out for grasshoppers, blue damselflies, flesh flies, and so many others that each have their own special characteristics, survival techniques and eating habits.

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