The silent surroundings of the desert may give us a feeling that no living thing exists there, but there are various kinds of insects living in the desert that we are not aware of.
Desert insects are well-evolved and suited for handling rough conditions in deserts. Their evolution depends upon various factors such as temperature, sand, availability of water, etc. They have adapted to every ecological condition that is characteristic of a desert. Some insects blend so well with the surroundings that they are hardly visible. They make their homes in plants, sand, soil, rocks, etc. There are different species of ants, bees, beetles, and spiders in the desert, which vary in terms of shape, size, color, habitat, and diet. They also have different kinds of life cycles and behavior.
Every insect has a head, a thorax and an abdomen. The head includes eyes, antennae, and mouth. The thorax, which is also known as the middle body segment includes wings and six jointed legs. The abdominal area includes the heart, digestive tract, and reproductive organs. The outer covering of a desert insect is hard and made up of a tough waterproof substance known as ‘chitin’. Some insects also have a semi-transparent outer covering, which is made in such a way that the moisture in the body is trapped inside, and the insects lose less moisture by evaporation, as compared to other animals.
When a desert insect breathes, it does not exhale continuously like human beings do. It waits until the level of carbon dioxide is enough in its body, before exhaling once. This results in minimum water loss. Most desert insects do not drink water at all, as they get the needed moisture from the food that they eat. Due to this, and the fact that they experience minimum water loss, they can survive easily in harsh desert conditions.
Some desert insects have a specific life cycle. They lay eggs underground, which hatch when there are rains in the region. In the rainy season, there are many short-lived plants on which the insects feed. After the insects hatch, they come out of the ground, grow up, and then lay eggs underground. Likewise, the eggs that are laid wait for the next rains and follow the same cycle.
During the day, these ants search the desert for vegetation and plant seeds, and carry them along back to their nest. These ants live in anthills. They discard the waste from their food such as seed coverings around the entrance of the hill. The normal size of these ants is about half an inch. They are capable of delivering an extremely painful bite or sting.
Horse Lubber Grasshoppers
These grasshoppers are commonly seen in late summer. They take a little effort to hide, unlike their grasshopper cousins. Their normal size is 3 inches or more. The two strong back legs of such grasshoppers have a row of long, sharp spines that can give severe scratches. These insects generally feed on deserts plants, but may even turn carnivores or cannibals as per survival conditions.
This beetle is named after its ability to exude a liquid from its joints that causes severe blisters on the skin. It is mostly colorful looks harmless but can be quite dangerous. A typical blister beetle can have an elongated and pliable body. The normal growth size ranges from half an inch to 1½ inches in length. It consists of ‘Cantharidin’, which is a toxic chemical compound that can poison domestic animals.
These are one of the most fascinating insects found in the desert. There are many species of walking sticks, somewhat around a 1000 of them. They are slow-moving and strange-looking insects that feed on plants. They are well-known for their camouflage ability and become almost invisible to predators. They are also known as witch’s horse, devil’s horse, devil’s darning needle, and specter. Their sex ratio is very unbalanced, only one in 1,000 walking sticks is a male. Their size can vary from half an inch to 13 inches. Their color is usually brown, green, and gray. They remain motionless, especially during the day; and are most active in the dark.
Black Widow Spiders
They are considered to be the most venomous spider in North America. Their venom is 15 times more poisonous than that of a Prairie rattlesnake. Only the female is harmful to humans. The females, at times, kill and eat the male after mating. They live in rocks, plants, debris or ledges. Their normal size is 1 inch to 1½ inches. Their life span can be up to three years. The silk that they produce is much rougher and stronger than normal spiders.
These are eight-legged invertebrates with an extended body and an erectile tail that ends with the ‘telson’ (sting). There are approximately 1,300 known species of scorpions in the world. The normal length of scorpions is between 2 to 3 inches. The longest scorpion in the world is the African Scorpion that can grow up to eight inches. There is a greater diversity (about 60 species) of scorpions in California and Arizona. These prominent entities of the desert biome hide in logs, cracks, rocks, and burrows.
As the name suggests, these creatures are actual assassins. There are many species found in these small hunters, which may act according to their particular attributes. Some may feed on insects whereas other may even feed on mammals and humans. Using their sharp beaks, these insects inject a poisonous substance into the victim that liquidizes the tissues. These tissues are then sucked out in very much the same way the liquid was injected. If the hunted are other insects, this poisonous substance may kill them in just a couple of seconds.
There are over a hundred types of dragonflies found in desert regions, with each species having their unique colors and physical attributes. Some even have natural metallic colors, which add to the beauty of these flying insects. Some of the most popular ones found in deserts are Desert Whitetail, Brimstone Clubtail, Painted Damsel, Filigree Skimmer, and many others. Almost all these species are good at aerial maneuvers and rapid flight.
The name praying mantis relates to the stance that this insects adopt. They uses extreme sight to spot their prey, which can generally be other insects. On the other hand, they use their camouflage abilities to stay concealed from prey and enemies. You may find the fact strange that a female mantis eats the male during or after copulation to obtain sufficient protein for egg production.
Brown Recluse Spiders
These six-eyed desert spiders have a poisonous bite. In the USA, these spiders live in most of the southern regions. Their abdomen and legs have a uniform color, with legs longer in proportion to the body. On their backs, there is a violin-like mark, which is the reason they are also referred to as violin spiders. These insects are known for being able to survive in challenging conditions such as in lack of food and water.
There are many more desert insects that are yet to be discovered. While crossing a desert on foot, one would surely come across many different insects, some which may not have been seen before. Insects found in deserts have evolved significantly, making themselves more capable of handling harsh conditions.