Insect life is abundant at Chiricahua National Monument. Often overlooked, they can be found just about everywhere in the monument - on the rocks, on the trees, in the leaf litter underfoot, as well as flying in the air. Butterflies, moths, and grasshoppers are abundant during the summer and fall months, as well as numerous kinds of ants, spiders, beetles, and other insect life. Because of the relatively mild climate and the summer monsoon moisture, insects thrive here, utilizing the long growing season to harvest pollen from flowering plants and feeding on green plant material. Aquatic insects are also abundant in the springs and rock pools. Insects provide food for many other animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. They are also important pollinators for most of the flowering plants. Hundreds of insects, spiders, and other invertebrates occur in the monument and play an important role in the ecosystem. Check out our species list to discover more invertebrates that call Chiricahua home.
Remember, all natural and cultural features within Chiricahua National Monument are protected, including creepy crawlies!
In the upper left is a western Hercules beetle (Dynastes grantii) - one of North America's largest! They live in the leaf litter and rotting vegetation on the forest floor. The males have a large horn that protrudes forward, and is sometimes used to spar with other males as a test of strength. Female Hercules beeltles don't have a horn. Males commonly grow up to 70mm (2.75 inches) in length, making them one of the largest beetles in the U.S. Each individual has a different arrangement of spots on the back, but the beetle's wing case will turn black when it is wet.
Have you ever seen a Walking Stick or Stick Bug (Phasmidae spp.)? Even though they are relatively common, these insects avoid detection by using camouflage to blend in with their surroundings. This type of camouflage, mimicry, helps them avoid being seen and eaten by predators. Often walking sticks will freeze, or sometimes sway, as if they are twigs moving in the breeze.
Vinegaroons (Mastigoproctus giganteus), also called whipscorpions, emit a vinegary smell when harassed. While vinegaroons look intimidating, they are mostly harmless, and eat many other arachnids and insects people don’t want around, including bark scorpions and cockroaches. Visitors are not likely to see this nocturnal creature, but sometimes vinegaroons are out during daylight hours, like this one that was relocated from the visitor center to more suitable habitat outside.
Jerusalem Crickets (Stenopelmatus fuscus) are a nocturnal insect that is neither a true cricket nor found in Jerusalem. Their large heads look a bit like a skull, and their large teeth can inflict painful bites, although they mostly use their jaws to eat dead organic matter, underground roots, and other insects. These plump, striped insects are a nutritious food source for many animals, including owls and foxes.
Pleasing Fungus Beetles (Gibbifer californicus) are found at high elevations throughout the southwest. Like their name suggests, these beetles feed on fungus and can be found in leaf litter, near rotting trees, and among mushrooms.
The Yellow-bellied Bee Assassin (Apiomerus flaviventris) has a very descriptive name, which suits it. This colorful bug (a true bug, not a beetle) uses its specialized mouth to inject digestive enzymes into its prey (bees and other pollinators) that liquefy the prey’s insides. Then the Assassin bug uses its proboscis like a straw to suck the insides out. Assassin bugs can bite humans and cause an allergic reaction, so if you see one, leave it alone.
Male Desert Tarantulas (Aphonopelma genus) often wander across roads and trails, looking for a mate. Like many arachnids, the female is larger than the male, and with tarantulas, the female is also a lighter (blonder) color. Tarantulas can have a leg span between 4-6 inches (10-15 cm). Females spend most of their time in burrows, and can store male tarantula’s sperm in their bodies for a long time. Common predators include owls and small mammals. Tarantulas are venomous, and use enzymes to help them digest their prey (usually smaller insects, but potentially young lizards as well). For people, tarantula bites are often compared to bee stings.
A relatively common butterfly, Arizona Sisters (Adelpha eulalia) are found in river or creek bottoms surrounded by oak forests. Males are usually darker than females and will sip rainwater collected on rocks, or get moisture from the soil, in addition to sipping sap from oak trees. Females also will sip sap from oaks and lay single eggs on oak leaves, which the caterpillars eat.