Today’s contributor is reader Mark Sturtevant, and his notes are indented (he also provided, as always, the links):
Over a year ago, during Spring, I was asked to join an all-expenses-paid teaching conference hosted by a textbook publisher in Phoenix, Arizona. So I went, but arranged to arrive several days early (on my dime) so that I could basically goof off and take pictures of the various critters to be found in the Sonoran desert. It was fabulous. This is the first of two posts that summarize some of the adventures. It is suggested that readers click the photos to embiggen.
The first day had to be a short one, but I was able to make it to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum outside of the city. Time was limited, but I did manage to photograph a few things including this butterfly – the Texas hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis).
A later day was spent at the well known Desert Botanical Garden within the city. Their extensive gardens of native plants drew numerous butterflies, including one I was hoping to see. The following two pictures show queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus). These are of course close relatives of the widespread monarch butterfly, and like monarchs, queen butterflies advertise their toxicity since their larvae feed on various members of the milkweed subfamily.
Within the park grounds were desert pond habitats, and at these were the well named flame skimmer dragonflies (Libellula saturata), as shown in the next pictures.
Probably the highlight of the day came quite by accident. I was chatting with one of the volunteer staff about insects, when she mentioned there was some sort of “large bee just over there”, and pointed out a patch of desert milkweed on which there was an enormous tarantula hawk (This one was Pepsis thisbe). Oh my! I had come across these ginormous wasps before, but they were always in a great hurry. This one was intent on getting nutrients, and so it was content to stick around for a time while I frantically took pictures and hoped my flash batteries would not fail.
Tarantula hawks are our largest wasp, and as you see they are strikingly beautiful. Tarantula hawks are of course famous for preying on tarantulas, which they paralyze with a sting before placing them in storage to feed to their young. Their sting is regarded as among the most painful to humans, as is graphically demonstrated here by that lunatic Coyote Peterson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnExgQ81fhU.
From Wikipedia we learn that one researcher described the pain from the sting as “…immediate, excruciating, unrelenting pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except scream.” Truth be told, however, like other solitary bees and wasps, tarantula hawks are not at all aggressive, but are instead single-minded about whatever they are doing. She paid absolutely no attention to me, or to the large crowd of curious onlookers that gathered to watch me photograph her. After many precious minutes together she flew loudly away, and that was that.
On other days I visited several natural habitats in the area. In the Tonto National Forest (which is pretty much all Sonoran desert without much trees), I came across a Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atria). This was exciting! The snake took shelter in the brush along the road, and of from there it did its thing by rattling and striking toward the macro lens of the camera. Not wanting to overly stress it, I took a few photos, wished the snake well, and moved on.