Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Revival for Insects

As I write these words, rain falls in a steady drizzle, across the expansive and flat landscape of the Chihuahuan desert. I'm glad to be inside this old stone house, with a cup of hot tea, listening to the persistent tapping and gushing. The desert needs rain. We have not had enough of it in recent years. Cacti and ocotillo and agave have extraordinary abilities to sustain themselves on low water, but even they will eventually meet their limits. And the drought is the most likely explanation why our numbers of bats have been lower than previously years. Carlsbad Caverns is famous for the Brazilian free-tailed bats that rise from the cave in a giant thunderhead, composed of hundreds of thousands of individuals. Bat flights this year have featured only a thin, steady stream of the flying mammals. The bats feast upon flying insects, mostly moths and beetles. In a drought-stricken landscape, there are fewer insects, which prompts bats to go elsewhere.

Even with the drought, some rugged insects persist. I am familiar with this desert's diversity of ants, as both the large and red and the tiny and black varieties scamper through my dwelling, and leave no tiny crumb of foodstuff or minute leg of cricket uneaten. And there are the cicadas whose song fills the air on the mid-morning hike to Slaughter Canyon cave. The desert is a fearsome, eat-or-be-eaten world, and so many invertebrates are armed, with stingers, fangs, or chemical defenses. On my night walks, I have encountered tarantulas (see previous entry), scorpions, centipedes, and millipedes. By night and by day, wasps and tarantula hawks buzz past.

It will take more than today's rainfall for the desert to recover from drought, but it is a beginning. We must bring a stop to anthropogenic climate change, for it is the cause of much of our recent spate of planetary extreme weather. In the meantime, as a tribute to the insects, I am sharing a few drawings (above and below.) These hornets were inspired by a nest which a friend and I found on a hike in the forests of Oregon. But they are equally fitting to the desert, and its panoply of insects who bite and sting for defense.