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Old 02-27-2007, 10:28 PM
 
Location: AZ
19,180 posts, read 50,030,673 times
Reputation: 8104
Default Your guide to AZ bugs

Ive seen enough posts on here to drive a man crazy, with people wanting to know about the "critters" in AZ. Having spent many hours of my life (wont get into detail) perusing the Sonoran Desert floor, I am quite familiar with the venomous critters of AZ. I also keep and study scorpions/snakes/tarantulas/true spiders/mantids/etc, so Im well versed in the invertebrate world so to speak. At one point I had over 50 scorpions, 15 giant centipedes, 12 tarantulas, a few mantids, and two snakes as pets.

I have compiled this beginner list of critters from AZ that most people are curious about. I cant begin to scratch the surface of course, but this guide should be a good basic intro to what are often misunderstood creatures. These are my pictures (Im a amateur nature photographer) that I will share with you, so you can get a visual on these creatures.

Lets start with true spiders. True spiders can move their fangs (chelicerae) up and down, and in a pinching motion, whereas tarantulas cannot. This is how they get their "true spider" designation. By design, they are far more advanced than tarantulas. Their lungs can handle long sprints and their mouthparts are more advanced.

Black widows are the most notorious of true spiders. Latrodectus hesperus (western black widow) is very common in AZ and several other western states. Its venom is neurotoxic, meaning it attacks your respiratory and central nervous system, effectively shutting down the muscles that control your breathing. Most deaths from black widow bites are the result of respiratory paralysis. These are not to be taken lightly, any bite should be treated as serious and should be taken to the hospital immediately. Most bites just result in horrible flu-like symptoms, with massive abdominal cramping. Their webs are really messy and jagged and easily spotted.

FACT: male black widows are tiny compared to the females and their bite is harmless. Its the females that have the potentially lethal bites.

Here is a Latrodectus mactans (southern black widow) I collected in Missouri. The tell-tale hourglass pattern is completely visible in this image.


The other true spider that is also world renowned is the brown recluse. These DO NOT RANGE INTO AZ! These are very reclusive (hence the name) and are not aggressive whatsoever. Bites occur when people forget to check their clothes or roll over on one while sleeping. Their venom is cytotoxic (attacks cells) and hemolytic (attacks the blood stream). Its venom causes nasty lesions, that if left untreated, can result in a necessary amputation of the bitten extremity.

FACT: A violin/fiddle shaped marking is on the cepalothorax (head), hence its nickname the "fiddler" or "violin" spider. Here is a Kansas specimen I photographed last summer. Can you see the fiddle?


A perfect specimen from Missouri:




Tarantulas: The ultimate horror for any arachnophobe, and for good reason! Theyre large, hairy, slow moving... making a good subject for a horror flick. A deep seeded fear of the tarantula is imbedded in our minds from childhood (no thanks to Hollywood), but sadly for unfair reasons. Tarantulas, for the most part, are very docile critters. No, they wont chase you. No, they cant jump on you. No, theyre not out to get you. There are MANY species in AZ, but only from one genus (Aphonopelma). These are dark colored with earthy tones. The legs are velvety black, the carapace (head) is usually gold/bronze/tan and the abdomen covered in rich rust colored setae (hairs). Aphonopelma are notorious for being very docile, taking to handling quite well. However, DO NOT TRY TO HANDLE THEM. Just playing it safe and covering my butt... LOL Seriously, leave handling tarantulas to the pros, we know what were doing. Full size Aphonopelma species average about 4-6" leg span. Males are the ones youll see on the roads, theyre just out in search of a mate. Once they reach their penultimate molt, they grow tibial spurs, which they store sperm in. Once this is done, they spend their last months roaming the desert for a female to mate with. Most times the spiders die out from exhaustion or old age before they mate. And alot of times the female percieves the male as a intruder and kills him. The mating dance is very unique to watch, but Ill get into that some other time.

Here is an Aphonopelma hentzi from Missouri. These look identical to the species from AZ.


DONT ATTEMPT TO HANDLE TARANTULAS! I consider myself a professional and I know how to work with them. Here is a juvie Aphonopelma tarantula I picked up in Missouri right out of its burrow. Hardly a monster, eh?


All the pictures I have are from my Photobucket page, so I dont have access to all my pictures. I can post more later if you want more. You can also visit www.atshq.org (American Tarantula Society) for loads more info and pictures, or simply Google "Aphonopelma tarantulas in Arizona".

Most tarantulas are downright gorgeous, with flat-out amazing colors. Here is my Avicularia versicolor, which didnt mind me being 1" from its face. Beautiful and as docile as a baby bird.


FACT: Noone has ever died from a tarantula bite, their venom is considered too weak. They can deliver bad bites if aggrevated, so use caution around them.

FACT: The largest tarantula is found in South America. Commonly known as the Goliath Birdeater (hardly eats birds, LOL), it can achieve a whopping 12" leg span, about the size of a dinner plate.

FACT: tarantulas have hollow bodies (spare the abdomen). They pump their hemolymph (blood) through their bodies to move them, kinda like hydraulics. Here is a macro shot of the inside of a molt, showing the chambers of the legs and fangs:
http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j292/Illinoisboy/macroofversicolorcarapaceexuvium.jpg (broken link)

Here is a macro shot of one of the molts, showing in detail the thousands of tiny hairs that help them grip surfaces, enabling them to climb vertically and hang from ceilings. Amazing, isnt it? This is a molt from a tree spider from South America (Avicularia avicularia).





THIS IS JUST SOME BASIC INFO. Its now taken me over an hour to write this, I hope you find this interesting and helpful. Im NOT here to discourage you from moving to AZ (like some people think ), or else I wouldnt have taken the time to compile this and help explain these creatures. Any questions you have, let me know, Ill keep updating info and add more pics as time goes by.

Please make sure to leave them alone, theyre really neat creatures, harmless ones at that. Please resist the urge to kill them, most of them are simply males on the prowl for females. At this point theyre about 5-10 years old, and have battled through life just to find a mate, we dont need to kill them out of fear. Also, females can live 20-30 years!!!!


Scorpions: There are dozens upon dozens of scorpion species in AZ, but only one is considered potentially lethal. That is the Centruroides exilicauda, commonly known as the AZ bark scorpion. These are a small species (1-3") that are tan in color (xeric morph adaptation), and are arboreal (climbers). These possess a powerful neurotoxic venom that can kill an adult. Although noone has died in AZ since ASU started their anti-venin program, they still have to administer AV to a dozen or more patients a year. Children and elderly (or anyone with a weakened immune system) are the most at risk from death from a sting. Check clothes, bed sheets, bath towels, shoes, etc before wearing them, theyre a favorite temporary hiding place for a wandering scorpion. A healthy adult will experience severe pain, lasting from minutes, to days, depending on the individual. Anyone experiencing palor, drooling, roving and uncontrolled eye and tongue movements, uncontrolled muscular spasms should be rushed to the nearest ER. This is a sign of a potentially lethal envenomation.

A rule of thumb for determining a scorpion's venom toxicity level is to look at the size of the claws (chelae) and tail (metasoma). Now keep in mind, this rule doesnt pertain to every scorpion, but its a general guide to the novice. The smaller the claw, the more potent the venom. This is because scorpions have 2 tools in subduing prey: grabbing and holding it with their claws and then envenomating them with their stinger (aculeus). Scorpions with weak, small claws rely more on their fast acting venom to subdue prey. Scorpions with big claws (ie emperor scorpions--Pandinus imperator) usually have weaker venom and prefer to simply crush their prey instead.

Here is a HIGHLY toxic species from Morocco (kills 1,000s every year), the Androctonus mauritanicus. Note the slender claws and massively powerful and overdeveloped tail (metasoma).


The AZ bark scorpion is one exception. The claws are weak, the tails are slender. Here is a picture of one I caught in Scottsdale.
http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j292/Illinoisboy/C.jpg (broken link)
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Old 02-27-2007, 10:29 PM
 
Location: AZ
19,180 posts, read 50,030,673 times
Reputation: 8104
Snakes: The most dangerous snake in AZ are the species of rattlesnake that call the area home. These are Crotalids (belonging to the Crotalus genus). The most common is the western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox). These can grow to be 6' long, and have bad bites. If you hear a rattle, stop and look around before you take another step. Once the snake is spotted, take 2 quick steps in the opposite direction. Snakes DONT chase people, contrary to popular belief. At least theyre kind enough to let you know theyre around! LOL Most animals dont give that luxury, be glad rattlers to. However, dont hike alone, and dont put your hands/feet in places you cant see them. Beware of overhangs and shady places. Snakes are ectothermic and hide in the shade to regulate their body temps. Bite victims NEED to be taken to the hospital immediately. If youre lucky, a dry bite was given (no venom injected)! Remember, only 1/10th of 1% of snake bites are lethal! Dont start writing your will if you get bit, theres a SUPER HIGH % rate that youll be AOK. Just take precautions!

Western diamondbacks (Crotalus atrox) have a telltale "coontail", with black and white stripes near the rattle. In the US (spare coral snakes), venomous snakes are identified by their eliptical pupils. Notice the snake below and its eliptical pupils? Thats the sure sign of a venomous snake in the states!


Here is a baby copperhead in Missouri (Agkistrodon contortrix), note again the eliptical pupils:


Here is a non-venomous snake, note the round pupils. This is my desert kingsnake (who eat rattlesnakes) eating a pinky mouse.



Other creepy-crawlies: AZ also is home to vinegaroons, a nasty looking bug that has a long stinger looking tihng (no pictures, sorry!) on the back. Theyre not venomous, but spray a vinegar-like substance at would be attackers. You can Google them if you want more info.

This is a amblypigid, commonly known as a tailless whipscorpion. These look nasty, but are not venomous. Just leave them be, and admire their strangeness. LOL


Size comparo:
http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j292/Illinoisboy/D-1.jpg (broken link)
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Old 02-27-2007, 10:35 PM
 
Location: AZ
19,180 posts, read 50,030,673 times
Reputation: 8104
Well, I went to post my info, but I was WAAAAY over my character limit (7K over LOL). Soooo, Ive had to shrink my post BIG TIME and have lost too much data to start over.

Here is a video of my African species, showing just how sensitive they are to movement, not relying whatsoever on their super poor eyesight. Click on picture to play.
http://i83.photobucket.com/albums/j292/Illinoisboy/th_H.jpg (broken link)

How to tail a scorpion to remove it from your house. Grasp gently! Place into a glass container, they cant climb glass. Release them outside, away from the house.



I feel this post has lost its quality. I will post some more later on, I lost so much info that I just dont have the time to reenter it all. If you have any questions, let me know. Ill definitely work on this more tomorrow. LOL Oh well, I tried. Goodnight.
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Old 02-27-2007, 10:51 PM
 
Location: Montana
2,203 posts, read 6,043,595 times
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Nice info, Steve-o. A couple of quick questions I've wondered about. Do snakes hibernate in AZ? At what temp do they become active? Are they "grumpier" when they're cold? What time of year do they shed their skin - I've always heard they're more dangerous then, true? I've also read something about a "green" rattlesnake that likes to "hang out" in paloverde trees and it's supposed to be more aggresive than other species - fact or fiction?

Which do you consider to be worse - the bite of a black widow or to be stung by a scorpion?

Last one - I've never run across a tick while hiking in AZ (used to have to be very careful in Colorado). Do we have ticks here in AZ?

Thanks for all the useful info!
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Old 02-28-2007, 08:32 AM
 
Location: AZ
19,180 posts, read 50,030,673 times
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Gretchen, yes, snakes and scorpions hibernate in the colder months in AZ, although a warm spell can get them active again. Scorpions are usually less active when the temps dip below 80 degrees, but theyre still there and thats when they seek shelter in warmer places or simply shut down for a few months. They have extremely low metabolic rates, enabling them to go with out food for up to a year. As for snakes, no, theyre not grumpier when theyre cold, in fact, if you were to run across a snake in the wild, youll be glad to meet a cold snake. LOL Theyre ectothermic, meaning that the outside temperature effects their internal body temperature. When its cold out, so are they, at that means that theyre very sluggish, but can still deliver a bite if they feel theyre being threatened. Same goes for scorpions and tarantulas. When theyre cold, theyre sluggish, almost to the point of being dead. In fact, alot of hobbyists will put their tarantulas in the refidgerator for a few minutes, in order to manipulate them w/o the risk of getting bit (a good thing for really defensive tarantula species). As for shedding their skin (ecdysis), snakes do it only when they need to grow, this is mainly during the summer months when food is abundant and they have eaten well. And no, when going through ecdysis, theyre not grumpier at all, it doesnt affect their mood.

Here is a basic info site that you might want to take a look at:
http://www.opa.medicine.arizona.edu//health/snakes.htm (broken link)

As for the green rattlesnake, the only one I can think of is a Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus (commonly known as the Mojave green rattlesnake). These are probably the most dangerous of rattlesnakes as far as venom goes, IMO. They dont hang out in trees, but have been spotted in them. Theyre a terrestrial snake (ground dwelling), but sometimes will climb short distances into a tree for a meal.

As for ticks? Im sure AZ has them, pretty much every state does, theyre impossible to avoid Id imagine. I think the Rocky Mountain tick ranges into AZ, which is probably the same species you had problems with in CO. Im not sure if the deer tick (which can carry Lyme Disease) is present in AZ or not. Sorry, Im not much of a tick expert, LOL. Im sure a quick Google search would reveal what ticks AZ has.
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Old 02-28-2007, 03:34 PM
 
401 posts, read 1,666,957 times
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Thanks for all the info Steve. Much appreciated. How rare/often is it to find a spider or scorpion in everyday life in Tempe or a well developed suburb?
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Old 03-01-2007, 08:31 AM
 
Location: AZ
19,180 posts, read 50,030,673 times
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Scott, its quite common to have scorpions in a well-developed suburb. Theyre very well-adapted critters and can survive about any condition thrown at them. My FIL had just as many scorpions in his central Scottsdale home (off of Shea) as he does in his new home in North Scottsdale (up near Dynamite Rd). Theyre particularly common in garages, attics, crawlspaces, etc. They are also seen in every other room of the house as well. Ive seen them in bathrooms, sinks, kitchens, bedrooms...
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Old 03-01-2007, 10:43 AM
 
Location: Oxygen Ln. AZ
8,466 posts, read 10,553,422 times
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Fantastic information. If I run into a tarantula I don't think I will be quite as afraid, they really are beautiful spiders. I may make a considerable amount of noise, but I will not hurt them. I would love to show this post to my neighbor who has a few in his yard every summer. He may stop screaming so loud.
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Old 03-01-2007, 12:58 PM
 
401 posts, read 1,666,957 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve-o View Post
Scott, its quite common to have scorpions in a well-developed suburb. Theyre very well-adapted critters and can survive about any condition thrown at them. My FIL had just as many scorpions in his central Scottsdale home (off of Shea) as he does in his new home in North Scottsdale (up near Dynamite Rd). Theyre particularly common in garages, attics, crawlspaces, etc. They are also seen in every other room of the house as well. Ive seen them in bathrooms, sinks, kitchens, bedrooms...
Ok, thanks. Is it (scorpion/spider/snakes/other critters) a frequent enough problem that people who arent exactly thrilled with these kind of animals should stay away from the metro area because of it. Or is it fairly few and far between? Just asking because I may be going to ASU for school but do not want to find myself having to deal with these things every week
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Old 03-01-2007, 01:57 PM
 
647 posts, read 2,310,636 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scottie View Post
Ok, thanks. Is it (scorpion/spider/snakes/other critters) a frequent enough problem that people who arent exactly thrilled with these kind of animals should stay away from the metro area because of it. Or is it fairly few and far between? Just asking because I may be going to ASU for school but do not want to find myself having to deal with these things every week
Those are great photos and good info, but NO! Please do not NOT move here b/c of the spiders, etc. Steve-o often says on this board that it's a big problem, they're everywhere, etc. He almost makes it sounds like we live in a third world country here in Phoenix, over-run by scorpians.

People who have monthly spraying - every month - and keep their houses clean and free of crumbs and food sitting out (which, Steve so politely - sic- pointed out to me once that scorpians don't eat) which will attract rodents, roaches, ants, etc., which scoprians, etc may feed off - you likely will be fine. Just don't go digging in the dirt under a wood pile, or crawling around underneath houses and be cautious when hiking. And if you happen to see one, handle it accordingly and have your house sprayed again.

I've been here over 3 years and have NEVER seen a scorpian or venomous spider or snake in a house. Nor have any of my neighbors or friends. We live in new houses, in new suburbs so I can't speak to older homes in Phoenix. Though we do have a few friends in older homes in Phoenix who've NEVER had problems, most of our friends live in the 'burbs and none have had any problem whatsoever.

I know there are some people who have problems, and YES, we do have these things here. But it's so NOT a reason not to move here.
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