Fulltime Roadrunners

Fulltime Roadrunners
Staying Put at BLM Oxbow Campground on the Colorado River, Cibola, AZ

Desert’s Dangerous? Critters

April 26th, 2014

I want to write a post basically devoted to the dangerous critters of the Sonoran desert and truths about their actual danger.

But first just a note to let you know we are doing fine out here.  The weather hasn’t gotten hot yet, just relatively warm.  That’s a good thing since it may take a bit longer than we’d hoped to get shore power. It seems the bid came in quite high, prohibitively high.  The powers that be are trying to find a work around and/or get the electric company to revise their bid somehow.

One of our regular guests was fishing the other day and caught a turtle.  The only turtles we have out here are Soft-shell Turtles and I’ve been told they are quite aggressive, their heads look like snapping turtles.  This lady turtle had a 10 inch shell.  Cliff decided to keep her, butcher her and make a meal or two from her.  She had 32 eggs in her in various stages of development.  I’m not sorry she won’t be laying those eggs, we don’t need a bunch more turtles in our pond.

Okay, on to the “Dangerous Critters”.  I’m only going to share what I have found out about the ones I’ve managed to see and take photos of.

One thing to keep in mind in the desert – where bugs are concerned, red usually means danger, keep a wide birth.

Starting small, the Velvet Ant is very wide spread and there are several different kinds.  I’ve seen the Red Velvet Ant (very pretty) which comes in Red, Orange, White and Beige; and the Thistledown Velvet Ant (camouflaged as a thistledown blowing on the ground).
0708rdvlvtant2about 3/4” long

thistledownvelvetant-1010thistledownvelvetant-1017About 1/2” long

The velvet ant is actually a female wasp without wings who wanders the desert looking for a nest of a ground wasp.  She lays her egg in a hole she’s eaten into the legless pupae of the ground wasp which becomes the food for her baby until it matures.  The female Velvet Ant has a stinger and her sting is very, very painful.  They are not aggressive and will try to avoid you if possible.  The name "Cow Killer Ant" was given to the velvet ant because of the reputation of the female’s sting. It is said that the sting is so painful that it could kill a cow.  Don’t allow your children to go without shoes in the desert, even around your yard, and don’t YOU go barefoot.  If you get stung by this lady, you’ll wish you never took the shoes off.

Blister Beetles

Arizona Master Beetle
0406blisterbeetle2About 1-3/4” long

These blister beetles get very large, up to 2 inches long.  They respond to disturbances by reflex bleeding from knee-joints and other body parts. If this clear green blood gets on your skin it causes painful, itchy blisters which take a very long time to heal. In the process of mating it also secretes this blood and transfers it to the female.  I’ve experienced the blistering of the Master Beetle personally.  We were in Quartzsite and they were on the ground and climbing the grass plants to breed.  Apparently they’d left their blood on the plants so when I walked through the little plants the chemicals got on my ankles.  I broke out in painful blisters that took 1-1/2 months to heal.

Inflated Beetle (AKA Desert Spider Beetle)
0406inflatedbeetleAbout 1” long

Upper surface coated with yellow or white nitrogenous secretions which can cause painful blisters if it gets on your skin.  These beetles are not always yellow, sometimes their secretions will be white or greenish.  These beetles will also appear mostly black.  When I see one of these, I think of it as a “trundle bug” because it’s goes trundling around the desert floor.

I’ve only seen the Blister Beetles in the spring.

Tarantula Hawk
tarantulawasp3-1101Nearly 2” long

The Tarantula Hawk is not aggressive except with a Tarantula spider or if you annoy it somehow…. swatting, etc.  The female tarantula hawk captures, stings, and paralyzes the spider, then either drags her prey back into her own burrow or transports it to a specially prepared nest, where a single egg is laid on the spider’s abdomen, and the entrance is covered. When the wasp larva hatches, it creates a small hole in the spider’s abdomen, then enters and feeds, avoiding vital organs for as long as possible to keep the spider alive. After several weeks, the larva pupates. Finally, the wasp becomes an adult, and emerges from the spider’s abdomen to continue the life cycle.

Because tarantulas are not easy prey, tarantula hawks are equipped with a powerful venom that is reputed to create one of the most painful stings in the insect world. In fact, according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index — a pain scale rating the relative pain caused by some insect stings — the tarantula hawk rates as the second most painful sting ever measured.
This is a good link for more info on the Tarantula Hawk:


Tarantulas give some people the creeps because of their large, hairy bodies and legs. But these spiders are harmless to humans (except for a painful bite), and their mild venom is weaker than a typical bee’s.


Most of the scorpions we see in the Quartzsite, Yuma area are Giant Hairy Scorpions which can get up to 5” long.  They look dangerous, but their sting is no worse than a bee’s.  If you open this photo to it’s larger size, you can see the hairs on it’s appendages.

We do have a scorpion with a rather potent venom: the Arizona bark scorpion, found at higher elevations on trees, under bark. I wouldn’t recommend sitting against a tree to take a nap.  At best, a sting from that scorpion can be rather annoying, or, at worst, the scorpion sting can be extremely painful with longer lasting effects.

Deaths from scorpion stings are very rare. People who are prone to have allergic reactions to stings, and those with undeveloped or compromised immune systems (the very young and very old), may have strong or severe reactions. Small pets may also have adverse reactions.


Western Diamondback

Speckled Rattlesnake


I love snakes, they can be so beautiful.  Rattlesnakes can be a bit scary though.  I can be comfortable around one as long as I can keep my eye on it at all times and it’s at least 6 feet away. Rattlesnakes rarely bite unless provoked or threatened; and if treated promptly, the bites are rarely fatal.  They are more afraid of us than we are of them.  They will try to get away rather than attack you.  Snakes don’t see us so much as feel the vibration of our approach and sense the heat of our bodies.  If we surprise them before they feel these two senses they will rattle to warn us we are too close, otherwise they will move away.

Rattlesnakes can control the amount of venom they deliver (babies cannot).  Many times they don’t deliver any venom with their bites and it’s quite rare for them to deliver all their venom.

I’ve not got a photo of the Mohave but it is usually a darker version of the Western Diamondback.  I do need to warn you with a quote from DesertUSA regarding the Mohave:  “The Mohave rattlesnake may be the most dangerous venomous snake in the Sonoran Desert. Quick to go on the defensive, the Mohave has very toxic venom that has caused human fatalities. Venom toxicity varies among different populations. The seriousness of a bite from this rattlesnake, as from any rattlesnake, depends on many factors, including, but not limited to, the amount of venom injected and the health and size of the victim. A person bitten by a Mohave rattlesnake should seek medical attention immediately.”

Another quote from one of the sources I found:  “Rattlesnakes tend to avoid wide open spaces where they cannot hide from predators and will generally avoid humans if they are aware of their approach. Rattlesnakes rarely bite unless they feel threatened or provoked. A majority of victims are males, often young and intoxicated. Approximately half of bites occur in cases where the victim saw the snake yet made no effort to move away. Caution is advised even when snakes are believed to be dead; rattlesnake heads can see, flick the tongue, and inflict venomous bites for up to an hour after being severed from the body. Most species of rattlesnakes can control how much venom to inject and have hemotoxic venom, destroying tissue, causing necrosis and coagulopathy (disrupted blood clotting).”

When I get a photo of a Centipede and hopefully Giant Desert Centipede, I’ll share it.  In the meantime, know that they do bite (pinch with pincers), and it can be painful, but not dangerous.

That’s all for now ya’ll.

Please feel free to share this information with people you think need to know.  My blog is open to the public.  I do monitor comments so spammers can’t use the blog to spread their evil.

Ya’ll stay healthy and happy!