10 miles SE of Ajo, ArizonaMarch 11, 1988
ARIZONA: Pima County
In desert off AZ Hwy. 85 about ten miles SE of Ajo, just north of the entrance to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

At dusk a couple of nights back while I lay in Henry, something began moving across the sand below the window. In the darkness it could have been anything from a mouse to a tarantula. The flashlight revealed a very sturdily built, completely black beetle over an inch long. Walking stiffly on long legs armored with jagged serrations, it kept its ample rear-end elevated high above its head. Having never seen this species before and not knowing whether it might bite, I nudged it with a stick. It reacted by bowing its head to the sand and poking its rear-end even higher. This was done with such purposefulness that I half expected the business end of a switchblade to flip out. However, nothing visible happened. Only when I picked up the fascist-looking beetle did I finally understand its defense. Issuing from the rear end was the intense odor of super-bitter Creosote-bush. If I'd been a raccoon exploring this bug with my nose, I'd have been stymied. The field guides refer to this insect as a kind of darkling beetle, sometimes called stink beetle, or Pinacate beetle. It's in the genus Eleodes. About 100 Eleodes species occur in the Western States. I'm betting that this one eats creosote-bush sometime during its life cycle.

Since arriving in the Sonoran Desert, agaves and yuccas -- so characteristic of the Chihuahuan Desert -- have practically disappeared. Leg-stabbing lechuguillas haven't been seen since western Texas. As agaves and yuccas gave the Chihuahuan its special flavor, here two species of giant cactus do the same. About one species, the Saguaro, we've already rhapsodized enough. The second species is the Organpipe Cactus, Cereus thurberi, which here grows to around 15 feet tall. These two species of giant cactus are easy to differentiate. Saguaros form a single, massive stem that branches sparingly about midway up, while organpipes branch profusely from their bases. Each Organpipe stem is much smaller in diameter than the Saguaro's single stem.

Any coyote-expert would recognize many diverse coyote call-types. I've been able to identify two. One is the familiar, drawn-out call heard in cowboy movies, and which school kids make when they see a full moon: Auoooooooooooo.... The second is harder to describe. If about eight half-drunk, teen-aged boys decided to "let it all hang out" by dancing in circles around a campfire while yelping, and if as they yelped they couldn't quite decide what kind of sound would be proper, and if they possessed absolutely no sense of rhythm, harmony or civility, then they'd be approximating this second kind of coyote call.

Go to Next Entry
Return to the Desert Index
Links on this page were last updated on . If you find broken ones, please email me.