Southern Arizona: A Bug Geek’s Paradise!

August 7, 2009

 Creative Commons License photo credit: Lary Reeves

Last week, I attended what is probably the best conference ever!! Well, that is if you are interested in wildlife, especially invertebrates.  The Invertebrates in Education and Conservation conference is a small gathering of people who are involved in invertebrates in some way. Most of the attendees are employed by insect zoos and butterfly houses all over the country, some are teachers, some are doctors, and some, like all of us, just plain love bugs!

The conference is held in a small town called Rio Rico which is located about an hour south of Tucson and right above the Mexican border. Located right smack dab in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, this quaint little town is perfect for spotting some spectacular wildlife; some of which can only be found in that particular habitat. The insects and arachnids are amazing, but there are also plenty of desert-dwelling mammals, reptiles, and birds to make anyone’s day!

 Creative Commons License photo credit: Lary Reeves
Arizona Mountains

The conference is full of activities: workshops, field trips, paper presentations, and lets not forget the social aspect! Bug people really know how to party! But seriously, there is so much invaluable information that I get from talking to the other conference participants. I can always learn ways to improve every aspect of our facility and that’s why this conference is so important.

 Creative Commons License photo credit: Lary Reeves
Chrysina beetle

I was able to go on a few collecting trips as well as purchase some critters that I was not able to catch myself. I came back with some great new bugs that you will soon be able to see on display! 

I caught some gorgeous beetles including cactus longhorn beetles (Moneilema gigas), fig beetles (Cotinis mutabilis), and jewel scarabs (Chrysina sp.).  Cactus longhorn beetles are robust black beetles with very long antennae, which are characteristic of longhorn beetles. They can be found during the cooler hours of the day feeding on Cholla. This is a cactus with extremely tough sharp spines, so collecting these beetles can be a bit of a challenge. They are harmless, but somewhat resemble another black beetle called a darkling beetle. These beetles secrete a foul-smelling liquid to deter predators, so resembling them along with hiding in the sharp spines of the cholla helps to keep the longhorn beetles safe.

Fig beetles are also known as Green June Beetles and can be found here in Texas. They are, however, very abundant and easy to catch in the desert. They are active during the day and fly around, buzzing very loudly, from plant to plant. Very often, people think that a bumble bee or something similar is headed for them until the beetle lands, showing off its beautiful emerald green coloration. They love to eat over-ripe, soft fruits such as figs and peaches, hence the name!

Chrysina, or Jewel beetles are a magnificent find. There are 3 species common to the area: gloriosa, lecontei, and beyeri. They are all beautiful, but a little harder to find then the fig beetles because they are active at night.

 Creative Commons License photo credit: Lary Reeves
Cholla Plant

I was also on the look out for katydids of course (my favorite!)  I brought back 1 very small nymph which I will not be able to identify until it matures. I’m very anxious to see what species it is! I was also able to get some various desert katydids, all belonging to the sub-family tettigoniinae. This sub-family is comprised of predaceous katydids. Some are active predators that will hunt and kill their prey and some are scavengers, feeding on eggs and freshly dead invertebrates. They all require plant material in their diets as well.  Out of the 6 I brought back, 2 are male sooty-winged katydids (Capnobotes fuliginosus), 2 I have not been able to identify, and 2 are a pair of Haldeman’s shieldback katydids (Pediodects haldemani). I am especially excited about these two because I actually have a male and female that I would love to breed.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
Haldeman’s Shieldback

As you can see, this species has kind of a diabolical look to it, and since predatory katydids are known to inflict a painful bite when handled, I will be careful with this one!

It was not all fun and games for me. I went there to present a paper. I actually presented on our blog! I love to talk and write about bugs to anyone who will listen or read and it has been well received!

So, hopefully you bug geeks out there will continue to read and put Southern Arizona on your list of places to visit, you won’t regret it! If you get there, be sure to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute (SASI). They are the ones who organize and host this wonderful gathering and they rely on our support. Well, until next time, happy bug watching!

Erin M
Authored By Erin M Mills

Erin Mills received her undergraduate degree in Entomology from Texas A&M University in 2004, and after a short tour of the pest control industry, joined HMNS as the Cockrell Butterfly Center's Insect Zoo Manager in 2005. Over the years she expanded the butterfly center's live arthropod collection, developed the ever popular "Bugs on Wheels" outreach program, and continued to establish her role as HMNS's insect expert. In October of 2016, she achieved her long time goal of becoming Director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center. She is constantly striving to improve the butterfly center and how it serves and educates the public about the wonderful and amazing world of insects! As a Board Certified Entomologist, Erin has extensive knowledge of insect identification, ecology, plant relationships, husbandry, really any insect-related topic!

8 responses to “Southern Arizona: A Bug Geek’s Paradise!”

  1. Susan says:

    Hi Erin M!

    I love your posts. You seem to know a lot about insects. I would love if you could give me a little katydid rearing help. I am a graduate student working on a katydid, Scudderia pistillata, the broad winged bush katydid. Well at the end of my experiments my females laid a whole lot of eggs. I study their acoustic behavior and have absolutely no knowledge of what to do with these precious eggs. Any advice? My plan is to leave them alone for a month, then put them in the fridge on a moist filter paper for a couple months. Then back out of the fridge till they hatch. Is this a good plan? What would you recommend.

    Thank you!!

  2. Erin M. says:

    Hi Susan, I’m so glad you enjoy my posts! I really enjoy writing them!

    I only have experience raising 1 species of katydid and I’m definitely still trying to work out some kinks with that species! I do think that they all have simliar needs though. I’m not sure about putting the eggs in the fridge unless you are wanting to delay their hatching. I think you would be fine leaving them alone until they hatch. Since they are from the Northern region of the US, they probably don’t have as high humidity requirements as the tropical species I raise. I would still mist them often however, to make sure they don’t dry out. Katydid eggs generally take about 3-6 months to hatch. As long as you keep them relatively moist and in a constant warm temperature, they should be just fine! Good luck, I hope they do well for you. If you have any questions about rearing the nymphs, feel free to ask. I’ll do my best to help!

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Tom Miller says:

    Nice article about trip to Arizona. I noticed an interest in katydids. We are starting a project on katydids as pests of palm trees and need to start a few species in culture here in Riverside, California. I need advice on rearing, feeding and sources.

    Tom Miller

  4. Erin M says:

    Alright Tom! I’d be happy to help as much as I can. You can send an e-mail requesting to establish communication with me to They will forward it to me and we can get in touch that way. Thganks for reading!

  5. baise niquer says:

    I think you should write on the whole thing more often

  6. Theo K says:

    Hi Erin,

    I love your post. We live in Tucson and my 6-year old daughter is a fervent, budding entomologist. She never stops. 🙂 She’s currently very interested in katydids, and I was excited to hear that you found some near here. I plan to contact SASI and go to their community day this Saturday. If you happen to remember where you caught the katydids you found, or have any advice for keeping specimens alive, I’d appreciate any information you could share.

    We plan to keep them in a bottle garden full of herbs that will live inside, but don’t know for sure whether they’ll live on basil and the like. I also see that they are often predacious or carnivorous scavengers but don’t know what kinds of bugs to feed them. Would crickets and/or darkling beetles be good supplements to a diet of plants? If you have any advice, we’d appreciate it!

  7. Erin M. says:

    Hi Theo!

    I’m so glad to hear about your daughter’s interest! You know, anyone can participate in the conference. Maybe she would enjoy that! The conference is actually in Tucson this year and probably will be for the next couple of years. Since you live there, it would be easy for you to particioate and you wouldn’t have to pay for the hotel room! You can also register for just one day of the conference. So, you could participate in one of the bug collecting field trips. That’s where we find the insects we collect. I could not tell you where we end up on those field trips, I just follow! If you think you may be interested, just ask the people at SASI when you go visit! Unfortunately, I have to miss the conference this year because I’m expecting my first baby at the end of August! I should be back in action next summer though!

    As far as caring for your katydid, I do have a few suggestions. I would opt for something like a critter carrier or aquarium for a habitat. You want to be sure it has plenty of room! I might not feed it herbs. They really prefer leafy green vegetables and romaine lettuce is always the favorite. You can supplement that with different types of foliage (just experiment and see what they eat) and other bits and pieces of fruits and veggies. A lot of katydids also like plain cheerios! it’s so cute to watch them eating them! You want to try to identify the kind of katydid as soon as you can to see if it is predaceous or not. You can e-mail us for help with that if you want, at If you determine that it is predaceaous, crickets will usually work well. You may also try things like dead insects, fish flakes, and cat food. All of those things have prtoein that they need and are easy for them to eat. Let me know if i can be of any further assistance! Good luck!

  8. Theo K says:

    Hi Erin,

    Thanks so much for your helpful reply. Congratulations on your imminent baby! I hope you’re finding good ways of coping with the Texas heat in the meantime. 🙂

    We’re looking at becoming SASI members, and I’m now signed up for email announcements about the conference. I’ll ask questions when we go in for Community Day tomorrow to find out whether the format of the conference would fit my daughter’s attention level. She’d probably enjoy the field trip portion. I’ll ask them about where they like to go when I see them tomorrow.

    I really appreciate your suggestions. I’m very attracted to the idea of keeping insects in a habitat with living plants they can eat, but it may not be practical to provide the variety in diet they’d need this way. Beyond that, an environment larger than the (very portable) 2-gallon jar we’ve been planning to use for plants and insects would be recommended for katydids. Crickets would be a good fit for a protein source, since we often end up with some too big for our leopard gecko to eat, and end up maintaining them as pets anyway.

    Thanks for all of your helpful information, and offer to answer questions in the future. We’re going to hit some washes and desert areas, and see what we can find. I’ll let you know what we find. Maybe I’ll see you at a future conference!

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