This summer’s historic monsoon rains have brought an explosion of green plant life across our desert landscape, but if you’ve gone outside for any significant amount of time lately, you also know that with that explosion of plant life, there’s also been an explosion of all types of creepy crawly bug populations.
“Water is life in the desert and when you get a lot of water, you get a lot of life,” said Gene Hall, the manager of the University of Arizona’s Department of Entomology’s Insect Collection and an insect diagnostician in the CALS Cooperative Extension. This year, “We have a bumper crop of insects,” Hall said, because of the dramatic increase in rainfall we’ve received this monsoon when compared with previous drier monsoons.
Like plants, humans and other animals, insects like flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, butterflies and Tenebrionidae beetles are benefiting from and enjoying the monsoon rains. Oh, and we can’t forget the Pinacate beetles, either. Those beetles, better known as stink or clown bugs because of the noxious spray they emit as a defensive tactic, are quite abundant now, too.
“One of the things I love about entomology is that when it rains you can see it,” said Aaron Burk, professor of biology at Eastern Arizona College, referring to the academic study of insects. Burk said that in the previous week he pulled 30 dead or dying Pinacate beetles out of EAC’s swimming pool on one morning alone.
“There seems like so many now because there really are,” Burk said about the beetles and insects in general. “It’s the most I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Burk said that typically beetles and other insect populations tend to find hiding spaces to populate and live in, but because the local bug population has exploded, “all of the hiding spaces have been taken by all the other insects.”
“It’s crazy they really are everywhere,” including inside and outside of local businesses.
So what do you do to protect yourself, your home, your businesses and even your sanity from these creepy crawlies?
“Probably move to a different state,” joked Casey Johns, the owner and operator of Hydra Pest Control in Thatcher.
Johns said that while there are chemical controls measures to spray in and around homes and businesses to prevent yucky nuisances from getting in, the best defense system is common sense things, like cleaning up dead grass and leaves in yards, since that’s what they mostly eat and making sure that entryways are sealed so they can’t slip in.
Johns described Pinacate beetles as “an annoyance type of pest” that aren’t toxic or dangerous to either humans or animals.
“If you don’t want to smell any odor, don’t pick them up,” Johns said about the beetles.
Hall said that along with decaying plant matter, beetles and other insects can also eat living plants, including agricultural crops. A part of Hall’s job is helping farmers identify insects they find on their farm. Hall said he hasn’t heard of any recent bug-related problems for Graham County farmers though. Hall does advise farmers to continue to keep a watchful eye on the insects in and around their crops though.
Cleaning up and removing standing water near your home or businesses is an important insect mitigation strategy, Hall said. Since so many insects are nocturnal and use light to guide them at night, replacing outside light bulbs with yellow light bulbs seems to repel some insects.
“They’re not invasive or anything to really worry about, they’re just gross,”” Burk said about the beetles. “Honestly with the numbers we have right now we kind of just have to deal with it. I don’t have a magic answer.”
Burk said the beetles and all of the insects now overpopulating Graham County are native insects that are here in the county year-round. When the rainy season starts to subside, and it gets both colder and drier as the fall and winter sets in, the insect populations will decline.
“This is a great time of year to go out and see them and learn about them,” Hall said about local insects, especially because Arizona has the highest diversity of bugs and arthropods in the world.
“They’re all part of the biodiversity of life we have here,” Hall said. “To me, it’s all just a part of the great web of life here.”