Adaptations of Desert Insects: How They Survive in Harsh Climates

Deserts are home to an astounding variety of insects, each with its own unique adaptations to survive in such a harsh and arid environment.

Over 1,000 different kinds of arthropods like insects and spiders inhabit these regions, making them some of the most fascinating and resilient creatures on Earth.

In this article, we will dive into the world of 15 desert insects and explore the distinct characteristics that help them thrive in temperatures ranging from freezing cold to scorching hot.

Each insect’s remarkable adaptation strategy will help illuminate the staggering biodiversity that exists within desert ecosystems.

Interesting Desert Insects and Their Unique Adaptations
A Darkling Beetle

Desert Insects Overview

Unique Challenges Faced

Desert insects encounter extreme temperatures and limited water availability. For instance, deserts can experience freezing winters and scorching summers. These conditions pose difficulties for survival and reproduction.

The Key Adaptations

  • Water Conservation: Many desert insects have developed methods to optimize water consumption and minimize water loss. For example, they might excrete dry waste or close their spiracles to reduce water loss.

  • Thermoregulation: Some insects alter their body color to either absorb or reflect heat, while others may burrow underground to stay cool or seek out shade.

Examples:
  1. Darkling beetles are known for collecting water by standing on their head and exploiting the humidity in the air.
  2. The Antlion creates cone-shaped traps in sandy areas to capture its prey.
Comparison Table:
InsectWater ConservationThermoregulationUnique Feature
Darkling BeetleCollects water from air humidityReflective body colorStands on the head to collect water
AntlionEfficient predatorPrefers shaded areas for trapsCone-shaped traps in sand
Desert Ironclad Beetle

Examples of Insects and Their Adaptations

Desert Dung Beetles

  • Adaptation: Efficient navigation
  • Example: Scarabaeus satyrus, an African dung beetle, uses polarization patterns of sunlight to navigate1.

Desert dung beetles efficiently navigate their environment. For instance, African dung beetle Scarabaeus satyrus uses the polarization patterns of sunlight to navigate.

Jerusalem Crickets

  • Adaptation: Burrowing abilities
  • Example: Stenopelmatus fuscus can dig large burrows in the sand2.

Jerusalem crickets, like Stenopelmatus fuscus, have adapted to their desert environment by developing strong burrowing abilities.

Immature Desert Locust  

Kangaroo Rats

  • Adaptation: Water conservation
  • Example: Dipodomys deserti extracts water from their food and produces highly concentrated urine3.

Kangaroo rats, such as Dipodomys deserti, conserve water by extracting it from their food and producing highly concentrated urine.

Desert Praying Mantises

  • Adaptation: Camouflage
  • Example: Thistle mantis (Blepharopsis mendica) possesses coloration and patterns that resemble desert vegetation4.

Desert praying mantises, like the thistle mantis (Blepharopsis mendica), use camouflage to blend in with desert vegetation, which helps them avoid predators and hunt more effectively.

Desert Mantis from Israel

Comparison Table:

Adaptation TypeOrganismExample
NavigationDesert Dung BeetleScarabaeus satyrus
BurrowingJerusalem CricketStenopelmatus fuscus
Water conservationKangaroo RatDipodomys deserti
CamouflageDesert Praying MantisThistle mantis (Blepharopsis mendica)

Physiological and Behavioral Adaptations

Temperature Regulation

Desert insects have developed various physiological mechanisms to cope with extreme heat. They produce heat shock proteins that protect them from heat stress.

Another strategy is body coloration, which can help them regulate their body temperatures by reflecting or absorbing sunlight.

  • Heat shock proteins: Protect cells from damage due to high temperatures
  • Body color: Light-colored insects reflect sunlight and dark-colored insects absorb heat

A Sun Spider

Nocturnal Activities

Many desert insects have adopted a nocturnal lifestyle to avoid the intense heat and aridity during the day. These insects are active during the cooler nighttime hours when the risk of dehydration and overheating is reduced.

Examples of nocturnal desert insects:

  • Scarab beetles: Most species are active at night, feasting on decaying plant matter and dung
  • Moths: They avoid daytime predators and heat by feeding and mating at night

Water Conservation

Desert insects have evolved some water-saving adaptations, through specialized structures and behaviors to minimize water loss. Some store water storage internally, while others utilize water-efficient food sources.

  • Water storage: Desert tortoises and Gila monsters store water in their bladders
  • Efficient food sources: Cactus-feeding insects obtain water from their diet
AdaptationExampleBenefit
Nocturnal activityScarlet beetlesActive at night, reducing heat and predation risk
Body colorationLight-colored antsReflects sunlight, keeps the insect cool
Water storageDesert tortoisesStore water in their bladders, minimizing the need to seek out water
Efficient foodCactus-feeding insectsObtain water from the cactus, reducing water consumption from other sources
A Scorpion eating a Cricket

Specialized Feeding and Mating Patterns

Diet and Prey Preferences

Desert insects exhibit unique dietary adaptations to survive in their harsh environment. Some insects feed on plants, such as cactus and succulents, while others are carnivores or detritivores.

  • Antlion larvae: These cunning predators create conical pits in the sand to capture small insects.
  • Darkling beetles: They primarily graze on dead plant matter and utilize moisture from their food source.

Mating Rituals

Desert insects have developed elaborate mating behaviors to ensure the success of their species. Some examples:

  • Dance flies: Males present a captured prey item to females as a nuptial gift, which serves as food during copulation.
  • Scorpion: Males engage in a complex dance, known as the promenade à deux, to guide females to their sperm packet.

Desert InsectDietMating Ritual
Antlion larvaeCarnivorous – small insectsN/A
Darkling beetlesDetritivorous – dead plant matterN/A
Dance fliesCarnivorous – variety of insect speciesNuptial gift
ScorpionCarnivorous – various arthropodsPromenade à deux

Desert insect adaptations are essential in coping with their extreme habitats. By understanding their unique feeding and mating patterns, we gain valuable insights into the fascinating world of these diverse creatures.

Footnotes

  1. Dacke, M., Baird, E., Byrne, M., Scholtz, C. H., & Warrant, E. J. (2013). Dung beetles use the Milky Way for orientation. Current Biology, 23(4), 298-300. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2012.12.034

  2. Hogue, C. L. (1993). Larval and adult behavior of the Jerusalem cricket, Stenopelmatus fuscus Haldeman (Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae). Insects of Pan-Pacific Entomology, 69(2), 137-142.

  3. Diaz, M. M., & Barquez, R. M. (2007). The wild mammals of Jujuy province, Argentina: Systematics and distribution. In J. A. Baldini, R. Chesser, & D. Poljak (Eds.), Evolution en ambiente extremo y biodiversidad altoandina (pp. 303-327). Editorial Summa.

  4. Herberstein, M. E., Gomez, R. S., & Rapkin, J. (2014). Polarisation cues alleviate overlap stress in co-foraging praying mantids. The Science of Nature, 101(3), 191-196. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-014-1149-y

Letter 1 – Probably Desert Locust from Spain

Large flying insect in Torrevieja.
Location:  Torrevieja, Costa Blanca, southern Spain
March 25, 2016 2:16 PM
We have recently had the company of a large flying insect and would like to know what it is please. It has been on our patio for the past few weeks and has been nibbling at our potted plants.

It doesn’t appear to be doing any large scale damage and we feel honoured and entertained by its presence. I can’t get close enough to measure it but I estimate it is about 8cm long. Thank you.

(Sorry, I clicked send before I had written anything on my last post to you just now.  Also, I think I may have sent the request several times as it didn’t look as though it was going through, sorry.)
Thank you for your reply.  I look forward to getting an identification in due course.
Regards
Dawn

Probably Desert Locust

Dear Dawn,
Thanks for attempting your submission several times so that we are able to post your request.  This is a Grasshopper, and more specifically, we believe it is a Desert Locust,
Schistocerca gregaria, or a closely related species in the same genus. 

Zip Code Zoo does list Spain as part of the range of the Desert Locust.  According to Encyclopedia of Life:  “There around 13 species of locust. Locusts are grasshopper species that form swarms. When enough of them come together, changes occur. They change color and eat and breed more.

This forms huge swarms that fly long distances and destroy crops. Desert locusts may be the most harmful. The biggest known swarm was made up of around 40 billion locusts.”

Dear Daniel
Thank you very much.  That was very interesting and very useful information that you provided.  I appreciate your help in this.  Thank you.
Regards
Dawn

Letter 2 – Desert Stink Beetle

Black Bug
Location: So California , LA County
April 10, 2011 8:28 pm
We were on a hiking trail and we saw a black bug.
Signature: Curious

Desert Stink Beetle

Dear Curious
This Darkling Beetle is in the large genus
Eleodes, a group commonly called the Desert Stink Beetles because they are capable of producing a foul odor to deter predators. 

BugGuide indicates the common name Circus Beetle, which is a new name for us, though we have heard a common name Acrobat Beetle and we suppose the origin of those two names is a reference to the posture the beetle strikes when it is disturbed. 

If the beetle senses danger, it stops walking and stands on its head, pointing the tip of the abdomen in the air while it expels the odor.  Desert Spider Beetles have fused elytra or wing covers and they are incapable of flight. 

This large genus has many species, and we do not have the necessary skills to differentiate between the species.  BugGuide indicates that the genus is:  “Divided into 14 subgenera based primarily on female genitalia.”  Desert Stink Beetles are often encountered on hiking trails in the Los Angeles area.

Thank you. I used your site to identify another one we saw….it was the potatoe bug or Nina De La Tierra.
Thanks
Marlene

Letter 3 – Another Bug of the Month: May 2008 – Common Calosoma deserves a better name: Desert Searcher perhaps!!!

Big Black Beetle in Baja
A few weeks ago, Baja Norte, that area of Baja (Mexico) from Tijuana south to Ensenada, was invaded by a plague of big black beetles. We’ve lived here for a few years and hadn’t seen them before.

They were preceeded by hot dry Santa Ana winds blowing in from the eastern desert-y areas, so they may have come via air (some think they can fly, although I haven’t seen that, and there have been a LOT of them around to observe). They are cannibals.

They are bold, and they seem to have some desire to come into the house, where they eventually end up in the bathroom, although not in tubs/showers/toilets per se. A few have even ended up in the sack with us – ewww!

They don’t seem much interested in eating our plants. The one in my pictures is on the smallish side; others have been as much as 1⁄4 inch longer. Can you tell me what it is, and something about it? Thanks!

We originally replied that your beetle is a Caterpillar Hunter in the genus Calosoma. Out of pride, we posted our own photo that day as we found two individuals in our own Mt Washington, Los Angeles garden. Then other reports began to pour in from Southern California.

We were having difficulty identifying the species, and BugGuide did not provide an answer based on its posted Calosoma species. We found our answer in Charles Hogue’s awesome book: Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. Hogue identifies Calosoma semilaeve as the Common Calosoma, though the species not being represented on BugGuide makes the use of common seem a bit odd.

We would love to dub this species the Desert Searcher. Here is what Charles Hogue writes about Calosoma semilaeve: “During the spring this beetle may be so common as to constitute a pest. The adults are large (about 1 in., or 25 mm, long) and run free during the day rather than being nocturnal and confined to burrows or cavities under objects on the ground, as are most ground beetles.

The Common Calosoma sometimes enters homes and, when disturbed, emits a disagreeable chemical that smells something like burnt rubber or electrical insulation. Because of its size, black color, and activeness, it is sometimes mistaken for the Oriental Cockroach. Wireworms and caterpillars, especially cutworms, are the favorite prey of both adults and larvae.

Consequently, the species is very beneficial to the gardener.” Hogue rocks!!! Because this is apparently an “outbreak” year, and because this species feasts on garden pests, we are offically proclaiming it the “Honorary Secondary Bug of the Month for May” and posting it along with the White Lined Sphinx.

Comment: (05/15/2008) Bug of the month – Calosoma
Hi WTB staff,
I have encountered many of these new determined beetles in my San diego, California backyard. And yes they do indeed fly. I have seen them walk across my yard, then get to the patio, then fly.

They are also aggressive meat eaters. I found a dead bird in my back yard, only to find one of these beetles ravenously cutting away feathers and meat. I’m just glad their only 2 inches long.Thanks
Jeff

Update: (05/17/2008)
Hi from Los Alamitos California – I am writing to tell you your beatle of the month has made its way to Los Alamitos, Cypress, Seal Beach and Long Beach. I saw one in front of my work yesterday in Cypress. My son called me later in the day, he attends Los Alamitos High School.

He was saying he kept seeing these beetles all over his school. I was at the Buena Park Mall yesterday afternoon, a saw beatle in one of the stores. I have an awful phobia a bugs. Ever since the infestation of the “waterbug”/palmetto in Lakewood CA in the late 70’s or early 80’s. Anyways long story short – Is there anything we can do to keep these bugs/insect out of our homes.

Sorry, we have now suggestions on keeping them out of the home.

Update: (05/19/2008) Bug of the Month: Black Beetle
Hey, guys. Just wanted to add my two cents to the updates; I live in Redondo Beach, CA, and saw two of these suckers yesterday. I’ve lived in L.A. County my whole life, and I don’t remember seeing one of these guys before. Scared the heck out of me at first, but it sounds like I may as well get used to them.
Jen D

Update: Caterpillar Hunter goes for the toe!!!
(05/19/2008) bug of the month
Dear Bugman,
I have seen many of these black beetles around my work place. inside and out. I would prefer to keep them out! Two of my co-workers have actually been bitten by these nasty little critters. I see that previous posts have labeled them carnivorous. This is extremely disturbing. Do you know if they are harmful,, or just a pain in the neck/toe?

Our coworker in education, Professor Rhonda G., called our home office quite hysterically on Saturday. Seems a big black beetle bit her on the pedicured toe that was peeking suggestively from her sandals.

Sight unseen, we identified her attacker as the Caterpillar Hunter that is making numerous southland appearances. We believe her dainty toe with its polished toenail was mistaken for a caterpillar. Calosoma semilaeve is harmless.

Update: (05/20/2008) Dear Bugman:
I am wondering how long Calosoma will be traversing the Los Angeles area. I had a nasty run-in with a very aggressive one that was intent on removing my second toe last weekend. I was working in an office in Torrance, (wearing sandlas) intent on figures on the computer screen when I felt what had to be a sharp bite.

I used my other foot hurriedly to scrape whatever it was, off, while I stood, screaming rather loudly, only to see the back-end of a large black beetle in retreat. I screamed louder and grabbed my shoe. Two co-workers came in and they shifted the file cabinet and Calosoma ran out.

I tried to smash it with my sandal so I could return to work in peace, but it dodged with alacrity and speed and slipped under the computer tower and on to parts unknown. I am back at work three days later and on Calosoma-watch with my two office mates. My co-workers have not seen it. Could it still be lurking? This insect is a warrior and a blood-thirsty carnivore.

I think it was trying to hold on as I was trying to dislodge it. If these were larger bugs, we would have a movie script for world domination and the end of homosapien life. I am in a bit of awe though, because I realize that Calosoma is intelligent: it planned an attack.

It made the decision to climb the platform of my sandal and it selected the toe it probably believed would afford it the greatest chance of success. But I question its ability to reason or think critically: I wear size 10 shoe.

At any rate, I hope the one in this office and others in our area will be moving on soon. A caterpillar does not stand a snowball’s chance in hell. Thanks to “What’s that Bug” for helping calm my hysteria and identifying this fearless bug, holding its own in the mean streets of L.A.

Dear Hysterical,
We assure you that the Calosoma is quite harmless. We also expect this population explosion to diminish within the next month.

Update: (05/27/2008) Bug of the Month – Calosoma
As a librarian in Torrance, California, I was feeling some pressure to find out what these bugs were that people kept seeing about town. At first it was just a few, but the sightings are becoming more and more frequent. Today, we found the first of these guys inside the library.

I stumbled across your wonderful website while trying to find some information, and have printed out your feature on the Bug of the Month to share with those that are interested. Incidentally, our Summer Reading Program theme this year is “Catch the Reading Bug!” Thanks for the great website!
Theresa Babiar
Youth Services Librarian
Katy Geissert Civic Center Library
Torrance , California

Update: (06/07/2008) Calasoma CSI: Case Closed
Calasomma Strikes Again After Three Week Hiatus
It took nearly three weeks, but the toe-biting Calasoma who attacked an unwary mortgage consultant working on a weekend in Torrance California, has again reared its antennae . May’s “bug of the month” terrorized a mortgage consultant who had a desire to crunch nothing more than numbers in early May.

The insect’s attack nearly drew blood and sent a wave of fear through the normally pleasant office, located 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Following the first attack, it was assumed Calasoma had fled the premises, so no exterminators were called in. In the second attack, just as before, observers say Calasoma stalked its victim.

Agents and consultants were working peacably, never knowing that in the intervening weeks, they were being watched by Calasoma. The exact same foot-fetish bug had attacked Rhonda G. at her desk. After a brief row, it ran for its life. We theorize Calasoma must have been driven by hunger. But the day of the second attack, proved to be its undoing.

A visiting Chase Bank representative was the first to see the wiley insect. He told Lori Q rather calmly, “There’s a bug near your foot.” Calasomma was making a bee-line for Lori Q’s black, 4-inch, snakeskin pumps–open-toed of course. Lori Q. sprang to her feet and grabbed a nearby trash can as the other agent present, Ayessa P., screamed.

The Chase agent seemed conflicted as Lori tried to speed Calasomma into its next incarnation, by smashing it with the rim of the trash can. This insect must have been faint with hunger after walking the floorboards of the office for 20 or so days:There is nothing for the carniverous bug to eat here. Nevertheless, it summoned its strength and agility for this final battle.

I imagine that Lori Q.’s carefully pedicured, exposed toes must have seemed like a potential and irresistable moveable feast. I am told Calasomma moved with blinding speed, dodging Lori’s death blows. She would not step on the bug because she said she did not want to soil her pumps.

The Chase rep realized that the trash can was not getting the job done and Ayessa’s deafening screams were not helping either. So he deftly threw an 81/2 x 11 sheet of paper to the floor, covering Calasomma and smashing it with his steel-toed boots.

Witnesses reported Calasoma writhed on its back in its death throes. It is amazing that the bug could survive for so long without food or drink and still plan an attack and fight back…but too stupid to make it to the exit door.

We felt a twinge of sympathy for the bug that seemed to grow larger in the re-telling of the first attack, but seemed a bit smaller in death. But still, do you suppose we need to worry about off-spring. It is springtime and it could be a she and the bug was here for a long while. Thanks,
Rhonda G.
P.S. I don’t know that I will ever be able to comfortably wear sandals again.

Dear Rhonda G.,
Nice lead. This story has the potential to be adapted into an amazing “squish” video, not that we could ever condone that. In the event that Calosoma semilaeve procreated in your office, the equally predatory larvae should be making appearances soon.

Update:  April 11, 2015
Wayne’s Word Palomar blog has this to say about
Calosoma semilaeve:  “Common calosoma (Calosoma semilaeve), a large beetle that runs free during daytime hours in search of prey. With its long cursorial legs it runs very fast. When disturbed or threatened it emits a foul oder that smells like burning electrical insulation.”

Letter 4 – Desert Weevil from Death Valley

Need the Common Name of this Beetle
April 9, 2010
Photographed the first week of April, 2010. Found in the sand amongst Rabbit Brush and Mesquite at the Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes. I am assuming that this is a beetle. May be a weevil, though. Are weevils and beetles related? Don’t know…
John
Death Valley Nat’l Park

Weevil from Death Valley

Hi John,
Thanks for resending this photo with additional information.  BugGuide does not list a common name for this desert Weevil, Apleurus albovestitus.  There is also a photo of it on the Field Guide to Beetles of California website, but again, no common name.  All Weevils are beetles, but not all beetles are weevils.

Letter 5 – Solpugid from Anza Borrego Desert

sun spider ID?
I found this sun spider in the Anza Borrego desert of San Diego County. I can’t seem to find anything online that would help me identify what kind of sunspider it is. Do you know of any resources? Thanks!
Raphael Mazor

Hi Raphael,
We have never had a request to take a Sun Spider or Wind Scorpion beyond the level of order, which is Solfugidae, resulting in the common name Solpugid, or sometimes Solfugid.

According to BugGuide: “Only two families in North America, Eremobatidae and Ammotrechidae per The Solifugae Website” at www.solpugid.com/index.htm where you can try to key the species. There is also contact information there for Warren Savary who may be able to assist you.

Letter 6 – Desert Ironclad Beetle

Subject:  The Bumpy Beetle
Geographic location of the bug:  Surprise, Arizona
Date: 07/17/2019
Time: 01:18 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I saw this guy walking across a sheet I use to protect plants from the Arizona sun. I have never seen one like it in our yard (and we have a variety of insects).
How you want your letter signed:  Alison

Desert Ironclad Beetle

Dear Alison,
We believe we have correctly identified this Darkling Beetle in the family Tenebrionidae as a Desert Ironclad Beetle,
Asbolus verrucosus, thanks to this BugGuide image. 

According to BugGuide:  “When startled, the beetle will fall over and feign death with legs up in the air, and become extremely rigid. After a while will begin moving and right itself.  Increasingly popular in pet trade.”  The species is also pictured on Arizona Beetles Bugs Birds and more.

Letter 7 – Desert Mantis from Saudi Arabia

Is this a mantis
Tue, Jul 7, 2009 at 11:37 PM
I know this site is geared for North America but I was hoping you or one of your others may help. I found this insect that looks very much like a mantid of some sort but im not sure if it is.

I found it in the Asir Region of Saudi Arabia (Khamis Mushayt to be exact), and as long as I can keep it alive I will be able to get more pictures. One thing of note about it is that it is very fast. and blends in very well around here (the environment is very much like the southwest.
Jeremy
Asir Region Saudi Arabia

Eremiaphila  brunneri
Eremiaphila brunneri

Hi Jeremy,
In November of 2007, we received a photo of a Desert Mantis from Israel that was identified as Eremiaphila brunneri. At that time we found a website that indicated it is a pebble mimic and that it is not a good species for captivity. Your mantis looks very much like that specimen, and we feel confident that it is either the same species or a close relative.

We found a photo of Eremiaphila brunneri on a University of Maryland Picture Perfect Bugs website and it is noted that it is a flightless desert species. The Macroinvertebrate Baseline Survey website states: “This mantid runs very fast on the ground and preys on ants and other small insects. Its colour is very similar to the background and extremely hard to see unless it moves.”

Eremiaphila  brunneri

Update with comments on religious beliefs
Daniel-
Thanks for the information and you are very right it is very very hard to see when it is on the ground and it is crazy fast. The only reason that my coworkers and I found it was because we were looking for scorpions and/or camel spiders, we were going to be kind of mean to the guy we work with, because its very funny…they hate anything and everything from chameleons, geckos, snakes and any insect…it has something to do with their interpretation of their religion but that’s off the subject. thanks for all the info I’ll let the other guys know.
Jeremy

Hi again Jeremy,
Your followup letter is of great interest to us. It is not like we have never heard of hatred for diversity, be it of life or lifestyle, being blamed on religious intolerance. Nor is this a taboo subject for What’s That Bug? where often court controversy in the interest of promoting a healthy dialog.

Here at What’s That Bug? we try to promote tolerance and appreciation of all living creatures, though we must confess that we are now waging war with Fleas in Los Angeles, and we expect the Sugar Ants to become a major nuisance shortly.

thanks again for the reply I actually just won my war with the sugar ants by being nice to them, I think they got bored lol.  

Again I know that you deal with North America but I and my friends here do appreciate the info once I told them what it was they were laughing because I called it, one thought it might be some kind of ant and another thought it was an arachnid of some sort.

I hope that it is alright if we submit other queries they will all deal with saudi arabia.
gratefully
Jeremy

By all means, do submit more from Saudi Arabia.  Since we get so many emails and since getting our attention is often the trick to getting your photos posted, we would request that you start to sign your submissions as Jeremy from Saudi Arabia and indicate Saudi Arabia in the subject line as well.  Our frequent correspondent from Australia, Trevor, does the same.

Letter 8 – Desert Harvestman

Subject: Desert Spider near Borrego Springs
Location: Anza-Borrego desert
April 23, 2017 6:02 am
Season: spring
Habitat: sandstone rock with eroded wind crevices (I noticed one of the spiders retreat into a small wind eroded den in the sandstone just large enough for it to comfortably fit (how convenient for it to escape my camera and curiosity)
Abundance: there were several of these climbing around the area I had camped at outdoors the night before.

I may have though twice about sleeping without a tent had I know but none of them bit me so it all turned out fine.
Location: Anza-Borrego desert, Southern California, east of San Diego
Coloration: designed to blend in with the course sand in the area
Signature: Chris Hunkeler

Desert Harvestman

Dear Chris,
This is not a spider.  It is a non-venomous Arachnid known as a Harvestman, and we believe it is a Desert Harvestman in the genus
Eurybunus.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults found in winter and Spring.”

April 29, 2017
Wow, this is amazing. I had not heard anything for a day or two and when I started trying to investigate myself I became completely overwhelmed with trying to identify the arachnid.

I couldn’t really see how many eyes it have for my photo much less would I have been able to see it’s genitalia or look it up in some book and I rather quickly became discouraged so thank you so much for your identification.

I was very curious and I will check out other images of what you’re saying it is before I go ahead and update the description on my Flickr page. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. I really appreciate it.

Letter 9 – Giant Desert Centipede

I can identify that centipede.
There is a picture of a centipede on your site that someone from Tuscon, AZ sent in. It is the Giant Desert Centipede. I live in Ft. Huachuca, AZ (about 1 hour south-east of Tuscon) and found one on my front porch recently (see photo).

There is a short description and a nice picture on the Saguaro National Park website. By the way, this centipede moves like lightning! We had a hard time catching it. I love your site. Thanks for the hard work! Best regards,
K Powers
Ft. Huachuca, AZ

Hi K,
Thanks for the info, link and image of the variably colored Giant Desert Centipede, Scolopendra heros.

Letter 10 – Desert Cockroaches

What bug is this?
I live in the southern San Joaquin Valley in California, and I found these bugs under metal barrels and logs.

They are about a half inch long. I’ve seen them crawl and “hop”. After looking at your website, it seems to be a cockroach, but I haven’t been able to identify it for sure. Thanks for your help!
Kelvin Furgerson

hi Kelvin,
These are Desert Cockroaches in the genus Arenivaga according to images on BugGuide.

Letter 11 – Desert Scorpion Devours Cricket!!!

Scorpion eating cricket
The “Desert Scorpion devours Roach” photo in the scorpion section reminded me of the one I took a few weeks ago outside my house in Tempe, AZ (see attached photo). The pizza guy was not nearly as impressed as I was.
Thanks for a great site!
Cindy

Hi Cindy,
That pissa guy is so jaded, or perhaps they also have a problem with scoprions getting into pizza. This also looks like a Desert Scorpion in the genus Vaejovis.

Letter 12 – Desert Spider Beetle

Desert Spider Beetle
Hi,
You had a posting at the end of march 07 from a lady that lives in Las Cruces, NM. I too live in Las Cruces, and yesterday came across the same beetle she is talking about. I took some pictures. I was taking my dog out just now, and found two of the, a big one and a small one. I believe the larger is a female and the smaller is a male.

I captured them in the act. I am attaching the pics that I took. I have sized them down to a small email size pic because I have a few. If you want me to email you a larger pic, let me know, and I will.

I hope these pics will do some wonderful justice to the beautiful beetle that seems to be prominant in Las Cruces. The majority of these larger pics show the smaller male attached to the back of the much larger female.
Heather, Las Cruces NM

Hi Heather,
Thanks for sending us your wonderful image of mating Spider Beetles.

Letter 13 – Desert Mantis from israel

Desert Mantis from Israel
Hi Bug People!
I saw this little guy on a hike to the Negev desert, in southern Israel on November 2 nd . It’s a desert mantis, Eremiaphila brunneri and it was just dumb luck I even saw it. The camouflage is so perfect that you wouldn’t see it from a foot away if it stays still. Lucky for me this one moved… Feel free to post this pic on your amazing site!
Ben

Hi Ben,
A quick web search did not reveal much information that might be of interest to our readership, but we did locate a photo. Another site indicated that it is a pebble mimic and is not suitable for captivity.

Letter 14 – Desert Weevil

Beetle found in East Mojave Desert 5/30/05
It was so hot that day, I thought nothing could be surviving .. and here is this beautiful beetle .. perfectly adapted! I’m getting heatstroke! Lovely, but frustrating. I looked through all the photos of beetles on your site .. closest I came was the 10-lined june bug .. but this is not that! Is it? Thanks in advance!
Kathi

Hi Kathi,
We thought this might be a Darkling Beetle, and wrote to Eric Eaton. We are guessing, if the lable on the photo is correct, that this beetle was found near Cronese Lake. Eric wrote back: “It is actually a weevil in the family Curculionidae. Hesitate to give a genus, but reminds me a little of Ophryastes, which includes large, flightless, desert-inhabiting species, often pale in color.”

Yes .. actually in the East Mojave south of I15 and east of Baker .. probably 10 miles directly south of Cronese Dry Lake.

Letter 15 – Desert Pearly Marble

California desert wildflowers have been getting quite a bit of publicity, and not just locally. Our very high rainfall has caused the desert to burst into bloom. Spring break provided the excellent opportunity to slip out of the offices of What’s That Bug? which is currently down due to heavy traffic.

Paco the gardener and I headed out to Joshua Tree National Park for an overnight camping trip and photo safari. I shot with a Hasselblad, but luckily Paco also had a digital camera with a macro lens when I spotted this little beauty along with five friends calmly resting on a single plant early in the morning in Queen Valley.

The night had been quite cold and the butterflies still had not become active. They posed for several hours. A trip to the gift shop at the national park entrance produced a wonderful book which we quickly added to our library. Butterflies through Binoculars The West by Jeffrey Glassberg is an excellent Field Guide to the Butterflies of Western North America.

I knew this beauty was a Pieridid, but wasn’t sure of the species. Jeffrey Glassberg knows. There are excellent photos of the Desert Pearly Marble, Euchloe hyantis lotta as well as subspecies California Pearly Marble, Euchloe hyantis hyantis. The habitat is “open arid regions including desert, juniper-pinyon pine and sagebrush.” It feeds on crucibles.

Letter 16 – What’s That Desert Thing???

object found in the desert
Location: Mojave Desert
December 7, 2011 9:53 pm
Hi,
I found this egg-shaped object in the high desert (Joshua Tree area). It’s about 1 inch long and looks like it’s made of sand, with openings on top and bottom. Somebody’s home?
Very curious, thank you.
Signature: Marianne

Desert Thing

Dear Marianne,
We aren’t exactly sure what this thing is, but we suspect is was created by some insect or other arthropod.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide an identification.

Desert Thing

Letter 17 – Desert Blond Tarantula

Subject: ???????Brachypelma albiceps (Mexican golden red rump tarantula)????
Location: Sierra Vista AZ
June 29, 2012 11:43 pm
Found crossing the road tonight.
One person said it’s protected and I should let it go.
The other said it depends on species.
It looks funky – is it a egg sac? Then I must let it go where there are no roads.
A few tarantula species are protected under CITES.
I just want to do the right thing if protected.
If not protected then I want to sell it.
But I found out that there is no regs within country of origin and I did find it in SV so I think I can sell it at the pet store or on my own. It looks like a
???????Brachypelma albiceps (Mexican golden red rump tarantula)????
Signature: ptosis

Desert Blond Tarantula

Dear ptosis,
In our opinion, this is
Aphonopelma chalcodes, the Desert Blond Tarantula, which we verified on BugGuide.  We are always in favor of allowing creatures to remain in the wild, though we commend you on getting this guy out of the roadway. 

Just because a species is not listed on CITES, does not mean that its population might not be compromised at the local level.  Male Tarantulas like your specimen often wander about in search of their more sedentary female mates, and removing this beautiful Tarantula from the wild will eliminate the possibility of him mating and passing on his genes.

Letter 18 – Desert Pebble Mantis from Egypt

Subject: weird bug in the desert
Location: saqqara , egypt
September 15, 2012 6:03 pm
hey bugman , greetings from egypt
illl keep this short and to the point,
found this bug in sakkara egypt near the pyramids. in september, in the sand
any idea what this is??
thanks
hisham abdel motaal , cairo egypt
Signature: dr. hisham abdel motaal

Desert Pebble Mantis

Dear dr. hisham abdel motaal,
This is some species of Preying Mantis.  We believe it might be the Desert Pebble Mantis,
Eremiaphila zetterstedti, based on the photos on Global Twitcher.  There is a nice care sheet on Insect Store that includes this description:  “They are plump in appearance with a light mottled sandy coloring.

They use this to blend in with the background of their desert habitat. They have incredible long legs which they use to run down their prey! Adults have tiny budwings because they never have the need to fly…and they can’t climb with their running legs as well.”

Letter 19 – Desert Wolf Spider from Australia

Subject: Funky disco boots Spider Karijini
Location: Karijini, North West Western Australia
December 6, 2016 6:08 am
Hello,
Camping one night in the out back in WA we pitched up next to a cool spider. this guy lived in a hole about 20mm diameter. When he plucked up the courage he sat out, on top of his hole guarding it like a bouncer at flares, he was out in the evening and had a really vibrant party suit on. white and orange legs and a snow white body.
Any ideas?
curious to find out and haven’t seen anything similar before nor after.
Signature: Tim

Wolf Spider
Desert Wolf Spider

Dear Tim,
We have one previous submission in our archives of a Desert Wolf Spider,
Hoggicosa bicolor, from Western Australia, but that individual is much more yellow than your individual.  There is also an excellent image on FlickR where it states:  “Hoggicosa bicolor is arguably one of the most spectacular wolf spiders in Australia.

It is fairly common in the arid zone and can be found in WA, NT, SA, Qld and western NSW. This photograph shows a penultimate male, and as all other Hoggicosa, the male will turn drab with the final moult (see the other photo of a male H. bicolor in this set).”

Thanks Daniel,
Really interested to find out.
Tim Barlow

Letter 20 – Common Desert Centipede

Subject: name of this Centipede
Location: Malibu, California (inside house)
March 6, 2017 5:07 am
This is not the first time that I’ve seen this type bug inside my house, and I’d like more info.
Signature: Lili

Common Desert Centipede

Dear Lili,
Based on images posted to BugGuide, we are confident that this is a Common Desert Centipede or Tiger Centipede,
Scolopendra polymorpha, a species found in many states west of the Mississippi River.

Super thanks for your reply.  But, why is this centipede in my house…do I have something that it likes to eat ??
Lili

In our opinion, the Centipedes are just wandering into your house accidentally.  The best remedy is to make sure all cracks and crevices are sealed.  People in California do not have the same weather-proofing concerns as folks who live in colder climates, so there are frequently gaps in doorways and windows.

Letter 21 – Immature Desert Locust in the UK

Subject: Cricket
Location: Uk Washington Tyne and Wear
July 13, 2017 2:40 am
Well I was leaving for work this morning when I came across a yellow and black cricket with red eyes it was very bizarre as I’ve never seen a cricket like that in my life and I Live in Britain so it looked very exotic for my region and I was asking could you help identify it.
Signature: Cricket

Immature Desert Locust

Dear Cricket,
We did not think this Grasshopper identification was going to present the identification challenge that it did.  The first matching image we found was on DK Findout, but alas, there was no identification except the category “crickets, locusts and grasshoppers.”  We then found an Alamy stock photo identified as African Desert Locust,
Schistocerca gregaria subadult. 

Now that we had a name, we located BBC Nature where it states:  “The desert locust is one of about a dozen species of grasshoppers known as locusts which – unlike other grasshoppers – are able to change their behaviour in response to population density.

This enables them to form swarms that can migrate over large distances. Locust swarms vary from less than one square kilometre to several hundred square kilometres. There can be from 40 million to as many as 80 million locust adults in each square kilometre of a swarm.”

Letter 22 – Egyptian Desert Roach from Israel

Subject:  What’s this garden bug?
Geographic location of the bug:  Israel
Date: 03/14/2018
Time: 08:50 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found this walking around the garden. Can you help me identify it?
How you want your letter signed:  Ms

Egyptian Desert Roach

Dear Ms,
This sure looks to us like a female Egyptian Desert Roach,
Polyphaga aegyptiaca, a species that will NOT infest your home.

Letter 23 – Desert Harvestman

Subject:  Spider/beetle/ant?
Geographic location of the bug:  Estrella, Arizona
Date: 03/20/2019
Time: 10:37 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  These guys were everywhere off the side of the road in the washout area but now we can’t figure out what they were!
How you want your letter signed:  CJSM

Desert Harvestman

Dear CJSM,
Though it resembles a Spider, this Harvestman in the order Opiliones is a related, non-venomous Arachnid.  Thanks to the Sonoran Desert Naturalist site, we identified it as a Desert Harvestman in the genus
Eurybunus

The site states:  “Desert Harvestmen, like most other harvestmen are probably scavengers that feed on dead insects. They are harmless and do not bite or possess venom. Probably the most astonding feature beyond the ultra-slender legs is the mid-body turret upon which the simple eyes are attached.”  According to BugGuide:  “Adults found in winter and Spring.”  

Letter 24 – Red Spotted Desert Toad

Subject:  Red spotted desert toad
Geographic location of the bug:  Kolob canyon utah
Date: 07/22/2021
Time: 11:55 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Noticed you don’t have any pictures of the red spotted desert toad. Please add this to your collection. Taken June 2021 Kolob canyon Utah.
How you want your letter signed:  Courtney

Red Spotted Desert Toad

Dear Courtney,
Thanks so much for submitting your images of the Red Spotted Desert Toad,
Bufo punctatus, after noticing its conspicuous absence in our archives.  According to Desert Museum:  “This toad is found from southern Nevada to southwestern Kansas, south to Hidalgo, Mexico, and throughout Baja California. It occurs from below sea level up to 7000 feet (1980 m).”

Red Spotted Desert Toad

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Unknown Caterpillar from United Arab Emirates

 

Subject: Unidentified hairy caterpillar from the Sharjah Deserts
Location: Sharjah, UAE
January 9, 2013 1:31 am
Hi,
I keep finding this hairy and brilliantly colored (for a desert species) caterpillar in the Sharjah deserts feeding on Haloxylon salicornicum every Jan – Mar cycle. In fact, I’m seeing it now for the 3rd straight year in a row. Any ideas on id. Some kind of moth caterpillar perhaps as most of the butterfly caterpillars are identifiable on the Arabian peninsula???
Signature: Ajmal

Unknown Caterpillar

Hi Ajmal,
We have been trying unsuccessfully to identify your caterpillar, which we suspect is either a Tussock Moth Caterpillar in the subfamily Arctiinae (see BugGuide for North American examples) or possibly in the Tent Caterpillar family Lasiocampidae (see BugGuide for North American examples).  Many caterpillars in those groups have utricating or stinging hairs, and that might be the reason for the orange warning or aposomatic coloration.  We did find this somewhat similar photo of Ad-dud ar-rabie (literally in Arabic “the spring worm”) on the Initiating a Response to the Degradation of Al Badia website, but it is not an exact match.

Unknown Caterpillar

Interestingly, the two visual matches we did locate were inquiry postings you made on Project Noah here in January 2012 and here with your 2011 sighting.  We will continue to research this matter and perhaps one of our readers will stumble upon an answer.

Unknown Caterpillar

 

Letter 2 – Desert Mystery: Unknown Object

 

Subject: Chrysalis?
Location: Rachel, NV
January 8, 2013 4:40 pm
I know it’s not a bug, but it might be bug related! We found this in the desert in Rachel, NV on December 27, 2012. We don’t know if it is botanical in nature or some sort of chrysalis and were hoping you could help.
I emailed the Biology department of the University of Nevada and haven’t had a reply so we were hoping you (and your vast readership!) might be able to help us identify what it is.
The object is very lightweight almost papery in consistency. It is aproximately 70cm x 40cm.
Signature: Completely Baffled Kara

Desert Thing

Subject: Plant or Insect origin?
Location: Rachel, Nevada
January 9, 2013 9:00 am
I sent a request to you yesterday with a description and several photos of an object that we found in Nevada. I attached one of the same photos so you will know which submission yesterday was mine.
I made a mistake with the submission, specifically with the measurements. That should have been mm not cm so 70mm x 40mm or 7cm x 4cm. If you could please take note and correct it! Sorry!
Signature: Still Baffled Kara

Desert Thing

Hi Kara,
We haven’t a clue what this thing is, but we have some thoughts.  We do not believe it is a Chrysalis, but it might be some type of nest.  The grooved interior appears to us to have been the means by which this thing was attached to some other object, like perhaps a metal cable of some type like the cables that are part of some fences.  This does not look like any insect nest that we recognize.  Certain wasps create nests made of chewed wood that has a paperlike quality, but this doesn’t resemble any that we can think of.  Some insects like Preying Mantids attach an ootheca or egg case to twigs and possibly a fence cable, but again, this does not resemble a Mantis ootheca.  If it is an insect nest, out best guess would be some solitary bee or wasp.  Perhaps our readers will be able to offer some suggestions.  Please let us know if the University of Nevada provides a response.

Desert Thing

Letter 3 – Unknown Insect from Australia is a Wasp

 

Subject: an amazing insect
Location: Melbourne, VIC, Australia
January 16, 2013 9:59 pm
Hi bugman,
Today I spotted this beautiful insect on my balcony. I am wondering what’s it called and it belong to which sort of insect families.
Thank you
Signature: Bebe

Wasp

Dear Bebe,
Rarely are we so utterly puzzled.  We don’t even know where to begin to research this unusual creature.  We wish you had a higher resolution photograph and images from other angles, like a dorsal view.  We can’t figure out how that appendage is attached.  Was there only one?  It seems to be part of a wing, but wings are paired in insects.  While it reminds us of a Spoonwing like the
 Chasmoptera hutti on the Tree of Life website, that doesn’t seem correct.  Hopefully one of our readers will be able to assist in this identification.  If you have additional photos and higher resolution images, please send them.

AussieTrev to the Rescue
Hi guys,
the angle of the photo has you tricked. It is a wasp, specifically a Gasteruptiidae wasp.
http://www.brisbaneinsects.com/brisbane_parawasps/Gasteruptiidae.htm

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

28 thoughts on “Adaptations of Desert Insects: How They Survive in Harsh Climates”

  1. Thanks very much for your feedback, Daniel. It will indeed be interesting to have any feedback on this. Keep up the great work! Regards, Ajmal

    Reply
    • Hopefully one of our readers will eventually provide a comment. Since you commented, you will be easy to contact in the future and we will not have to search through old mail to respond.

      Reply
    • Thanks for the information and links. We have been away from the office since the end of May and we just returned and approved your comment.

      Reply
  2. After months of not giving up, I finally got a lead on what it might be. I was told it could be a piece of the inside of a termite mound. Upon further investigation it looks specifically like an arboreal termite nest which is made of carton. Mystery solved!!

    Reply
  3. I live in L.A., West Central. I spotted three large, black beetles in my backyard, that I believe belong to the Calosoma specimen.
    There is a tear in the airflow net ( forgive this transplant who doesn’t know the right term…) on the roof and the beetles keep falling down in my porch!!! It is so unpleasant and disgusting! Especially because I am zoophobic…

    I took three pictures of one of them. Is there a way to send or post them for you to check if it is a Calosoma?
    Is there a way to get rid of them? For as useful as they are, they scare me a lot!

    Thank you for the great website = )

    Reply
    • We see your images arrived and we will post them as we also received a report of a Larval Caterpillar Hunter from Santa Monica. Perhaps this will be a big year for Caterpillar Hunters in Southern California.

      Reply
  4. Thank you so much for your prompt response, for your valuable time and consideration. I really appreciate it.
    I am relieved to know that it is not a cockroach …

    Reply
  5. BIG GREEN BEETLE IN CHICAGO SUBURBS!! Yikes! It flew up, landed on me and kept coming back no matter how hard I hit it away. I batted it out of the screen room on the patio and it turned around, sneered at me, and came at me again like a bull at a matador. Sad to say, it did not survive the battle. (I don’t like killing things.) I have since found out it was introduced to control the gypsy moth population a long time ago, so it is a useful bug. But not to me!

    Reply
  6. I noticed the ones I have encountered here since a kid when hiking the foothills at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Central Valley California do the threatening pose but have never emitted any odor I could detect. I saw an article online mentioning there were many mimic species of these stink bugs.. I’m interested to know more about them.

    Reply
  7. Also known as a Pinacate. There used to be stories about them- Pinacate & Coyote, Pinacate & the Stars, Pinacate & the Flatulent Children. ( sorry the device won’t let me say fart*ng ).
    They are so ubiquitous here in the deserts, I think they must be a “keystone species”. They are never in a hurry, and if something scares them, they usually just stand on their head and smell bad. But I never seem to get away with that haha.

    Reply
  8. I live in Monterey County- My dogs are very entertained by the acrobatics of those black stink bugs but always get a full dose of their stink. It took me a while to figure out why my pups always smelled so bad in the face – it was those silly bugs. I am afraid the bugs got the worst of it.

    Reply
  9. Thanks for the name John. Is that the name of the mimics or the ones that actually stink? Or are they one in the same and I’ve just been lucky not being stinked? lol My siblings and I used to call them “Beanie Bugs” when we were little I think because it looked like they were doing headstands. We thought they were funny and we “bugged” them a little but they never sprayed us so I never knew why they did that.

    Reply
  10. I forgot to tell you what happened when pinacate climbed up there with that basket full of stars.
    It was an old time, real basket. A serious basket, the kind they used to make, the one that can carry something.
    But this time…

    Reply
  11. One time we were visiting Grand Wash where it flows into Lake Mead. It was a wet spring and these creatures were swarming all over the place. We called them ” daddy long legs” and were happy to see them because they don’t bite and it was truly something to see. Thank you so much for this information.

    Reply
  12. I was interested to read this post and see the photograph. I live near Granada, southern Spain, and I have been seeing these huge insects regularly for a number of years, generally in the autumn/winter. Last weekend I even found a mating pair (first time I’ve seen this) and it’s only February. They seem to be on the increase too. I am wondering if this has anything to do with climate change? I’d be very interested to hear your comments, thanks.

    Reply
  13. I’ve just fished one out of our pool. I thought he was dead but miraculously he’s still alive ❤️
    Location is Playa Flamenca

    Reply
  14. Update: I am just getting into my apartment in downtown Los Angeles from a church in Arcadia, so I decided to sit in my favourite chair and turn on my computer. After a while, I get up to look at the raindrops falling from the sky (for a minute) and then return to my chair. As I look down, what do I see? A huge black beetle was sitting there. Hate to say it, but I smashed it with a book, which didn’t kill it but fractured it a bit. I took a photo, went to your website, and identified it as a Common Calosoma. How did it get into my place? I think it attached to me in Arcadia and travelled with me all the way home to downtown Los Angeles. After finding out how beneficial it is to humans, I felt a little sorry that I smashed it and flushed it down the toilet, but next time, I’ll try and work with it and set it free somewhere else besides in my apartment.

    Reply

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