Flora and Fauna News

Sonoran Desert Edition

Sunday, Apr. 25, 2004
Vol. 6 No. 10

Hexapod Invasion



By Michael Plagens
Sonoran Desert Sciences


PHOENIX, Az. ----- Generous rainfall arrived in the Sonoran Desert during February and March allowing the Sonoran Desert to produce carpets of tender green and wildflowers. The intense heat of summertime is now building into the desert with temperatures in excess of 33 C with very low humidities and breezy conditions. Instant dried flower arrangements are the result with an abundance of plant-munching insects seeking greener pastures. Somehow they discover that the water never stops flowing in the urban areas of Tucson and Phoenix and have arrived in droves with raging appetites and bellies full of eggs needing homes where caterpillars or nymphs (insect young) can grow. Of course all insects have six true legs, thus the term hexapod.  
    Many kinds of insects are crowding into towns with grasshoppers and noctuid moths being the most conspicuous. Frenzied swarms gather beneath bright lights at car dealerships and shopping centers where they become easy prey for bats and lesser nighthawks. By dawn the worn out party goers fall prey to house sparrows, European starlings, northern mockingbirds and great-tailed grackles. Many are struck by automobiles and are fed on by roadside scavengers like ants. Even so, many will succeed in depositing eggs in gardens while others may move many kilometers up slope to higher elevations where there is more moisture and greener plants.
    The most common grasshoppers are the band-wing grasshopper (Trimerotropis); many have distinctive, pale-yellow or blue hindwings. Checkered White Butterflies (Pieris protodice) became abundant on wild desert mustards and may leave caterpillars on cabbage or broccoli in urban gardens. A dark brown moth develops from caterpillars known as cabbage loopers and is now very abundant.


Photo by Bruce Walsh - Click to see full-size
Checkered White Butterfly (Pieris protodice)
Photo by Bruce Walsh - Arizona Butterflies.

Photo by Bruce Walsh - Click to see full-size
Cabbage Looper Moth (Trichoplusia ni).
Photo by Bruce Walsh - Moths of Southeast Arizona.


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© Michael J. Plagens, 1997-2001