At Night in the Desert....

by Dan Weisz

At night in the desert different animals wake up and move about after spending the hot daytime underground.  Saturday night after sunset I walked a bit of Sabino Canyon with two friends.  We saw some interesting creatures, all of whom make their homes throughout the Catalina Foothills!

One of the first things we saw was a “flatty”, a Flat-Wall Crab Spider.  In the Tucson area, many of us have these spiders in our homes and see them on the walls at night.  These spiders rely on speed rather than a web to catch their insect prey.

Crossing the bridge to Bear Canyon, we saw a Variable Sand Snake.  You may remember seeing this snake in the mouth of one of the Western Screech Owlets a few weeks ago.  About ten inches long, this snake spends most of its life buried in sand, gravel, or surface debris which it “swims” through in search of insect prey.

The colors of this snake are similar to those of a coral snake, who lives in the same desert environment and whose venom is highly toxic.  Perhaps Variable Sand Snakes developed this coloration as a defense mechanism to mimic the colors of coral snakes.

This formidable looking bug is called a Solifugid, better known as either a Sun Spider or a Wind Scorpion.  It is neither a spider nor a scorpion but it is a distant cousin.  Sun Spiders are found in many deserts around the world and they really dislike sunlight, coming out only at night.  Their sun spider name is a poor translation from the Latin sollifugae which means “to detest light”.  My hunch is that some of you “detest” this bug.

Pity the poor insects that get caught in the Sun Spider’s fangs!! 

We saw several Tarantulas, who all were staying close to home.  This one’s burrow was under the sidewalk!

Many nighttime insects can be found on the sides of walls and buildings on summer nights.  Two of the interesting finds were this Creosote Bush Katydid.  Creosote bushes are not an easy food to eat, but bugs like this Katydid have adapted to be able to feed on it.  And, they evolved to have colors that match!

I found an insect that I particularly hate:  A Cone-nosed Beetle or Kissing Bug.  These insects are blood-feeding and their primary hosts are pack rats.  They are active at night during the early summer and can venture into homes where there are no pack rats but humans are are available as a food source!  People who are bitten have allergic reactions to the saliva of the bugs, causing large, itchy welts.  I hate these bugs!

The last creature we ran across was another tarantula, also in a burrow at the edge of the sidewalk.

A close-up gives you a good look at the spider’s eyes.  Tarantulas cannot see very well, but are able to see light and darkness as well as some general movement.  They rely on their highly developed sense of touch.

I will return to Sabino Canyon several nights this summer, and await the monsoons which will bring out many more animals.