Monday, August 16, 2010

Lay of the Land

by Ben Small

Summer in the desert. You know it's hot; even somebody in Mongolia knows the Arizona summer is hot.


And the creatures. Everybody knows about the snakes and the gila monsters, the killer bees, the centipedes, and the scorpions.

But did you know about the frogs? When it rains, Spadefoot frogs appear, along with their big brothers, the bullfrog. The Spadefoots are small, about bite size. Which is why they're so dangerous. If your dog eats one, he'll die. If you eat one or touch one, and then you touch your eyes or mouth or nose, you might have some problems. These frogs are poisonous.

And the crickets. Everybody's used to crickets; they provide the summer songs of the Midwest. Well, they're in the desert, too. And they have special meaning: Scorpions. Crickets are chocolate soufflĂ© to scorpions. If you hear crickets, the scorpions will not be inside your home; they'll be out in cricket-land. Of course, this whole equation shifts if you have crickets in your house.

As Fall sets in, it's time to cover your drains with a hard piece of plastic. Fully fed scorpions will attempt to avoid winter by traipsing through your drains, most often in the shower or tub. The hard plastic mat will form a barrier they can't move. It's the little ones that are most dangerous; the ones that look translucent. They can kill a small child or the elderly. But be careful looking for them; they can look like a tossed rubber band. I have a friend who picked one up twice. Thought it was a rubber band; picked it up, got stung, than picked it up again. I'd laugh except I've done the same thing.

Hurts like hell.

The best way to find scorpions is to buy a black light at the hardware store. The translucent, dangerous scorpions glow green in black light.

One rule for living in the desert: Always look where you're going and never reach under a rock or bush without looking carefully first. While gila monsters are bright and colorful, a rattler is hard to find even if you're looking right at it. Stomping around, making ground noise is your best protection. While the snake may not see you, he'll hear you and run away or at least make his presence known. In four years, I've yet to encounter a rattler, except for one that fell out of a mesquite tree and was lying dazed on the ground.

If you're camping in the desert, you'll want to stretch some hemp around your campsite. Rattlers don't like slithering over a rough texture like hemp. Snake-Away doesn't work. The best way to keep rattlers out of your yard is to rid yourself of gophers and pack rats, not an easy task in the desert.

Bees. Be very careful about bees. The Africanized version are aggressive, but they'll give you a warning. Heeding it is the issue. They'll gather in groups, buzz at you, then watch what you do. If you step back, they'll move away; if you step forward, they'll attack. I've had this experience twice. Both times I stepped back.

Just three days ago, four hikers on Tucson's Mount Lemon ran into a swarm of African-American bees. One of the men got tangled in his equipment and couldn't escape. He was stung over a thousand times, his buddies stung hundreds of times, and it took a helicopter's whirling blades to fend the bees off. Believe it or not, everybody -- except maybe a few bees -- survived.

African-American bees. Is distinguishing between them and honey bees racial profiling? I'm a bit behind in my political correctness training.

And then the washes. And the rains. You don't wanna be anywhere near anything that looks like a wash during a rainstorm, or if's been raining up-ground from your position. Last week, a wall of water thirteen feet high rolled down Tanque Verde Wash at tremendous speeds. Wiped out part of a golf course, several homes and a few cars... with people inside. Folks from the Midwest -- just about everybody in Arizona is from somewhere else -- aren't used to crossing roads covered by running water. Six inches of moving water will wash your auto -- and you -- away. And rescues are iffy. The sediment in the water is like cement. It can bury your car with you inside. Many wash-aways are never found.

Lastly, termites. Before I moved to the desert, I didn't realize there are two types: dry and wet. The wet ones are the ones you see. They leave mud trails and are easily treated. The dry ones are much more destructive, and more resistant to treatment. Even finding them before you house falls down is difficult. Instead of mud trails, one must look for dust specs. That's termite-poop. Our pest guy tells us every house in Tucson has termites, usually the dry ones, as Tucson seems to be Termite-Central.


Kendra said...

Please do your research before posting. Spadefoot Toads (not frogs) are not dangerous especially if "you touch one." All toads can secrete (at will) a substance that is either toxic as you stated, or unpleasant which cause you (or the dog) to drool profusely for a few minutes and/or other irritating allergic reactions. Both Western and Eastern varieties are common in the pet trade. Now the Chinese Fire-Bellied Toad is very poisonous to dogs (and humans if ingested) but these are also common in the pet trade and are safe to touch though washing your hands is advised, as always with all amphibians. I am a Herpetoculturist (have been for 27 years) and have always kept both these fantastic amphibians as pets without consequence.

Jean Henry Mead said...

You've just convinced me to never move back to Arizona, Ben. The critters and the heat make me appreciate my northern mountain retreat. :)