What’s That 'Bug'?

There is a very large number and variety of insects that can be seen in the park.  This variety includes butterflies, wasps, grasshoppers, true bugs and beetles.  We also have other arthropods, such as millipedes and arachnids (spiders).  Those will also be included in this section.  The photo below is of a Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella), a dragonfly.  We spotted this one just after a short but heavy rain.


We will start the discussion with butterflies and moths.  The photos referenced will be in the butterflies & moths photo album along with additional photos.  The first two photos are of a Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia), a butterfly which can vary greatly in its color and markings.  The next one is a Texas Crescentspot.  Seeing an American Snout butterfly for the first time was fun, because the ‘snout’ makes them very easy to identify.  Another beautiful butterfly we’ve seen is the Empress Antonia.  Possibly the most commonly seen butterfly is the Sleepy Orange.  It can be seen throughout the warmer months.  

Other butterflies we have seen around the park include Tiger Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail, Monarch, Queen, several kinds of Skippers, and at least one type Fritillary that we have not seen clearly enough to identify.

We don’t see too many moths in the park because most of them are active at night.  The two we have seen that are day-fliers are the Western Grape Leaf Skeletonizer moth, which is an amazing shade of blue and which has beautiful caterpillars.  We have seen both in the cave with the Upside Down Tlaloc, and finally figured out that the caterpillars must be eating Hackberry leaves, since there are no grape vines in the area. The second moth we’ve seen is the White-Lined Sphinx moth.  In the photo below, it is sitting on a Lechuguilla plant.


There are many examples of the order Orthoptera (Grasshoppers and Crickets) in the park.  Some of the grasshoppers blend in so well with their surroundings that they are difficult to see.  Others are so brightly colored that it is hard to miss seeing them.  An example of the former is the Pallid-winged Grasshopper.  An example of the latter is the Horse Lubber Grasshopper (Taeniopoda eques).  These grasshoppers appear in late August, and stay around until the weather gets cold.  We have also discovered the presence of Plains Lubber Grasshoppers.  The one pictured is a juvenile.  We have seen them in New Mexico in a very rainy year, and they were brilliantly colored then.  Apparently their color changes according to the amount of rain.  During the height of their season the Horse Lubbers are all over the road leading into the park, as well as all over the park.  There are many other kinds of grasshoppers in the park; others that we have been able to identify are in the Grasshopper Photo Album.

There are also multiple kinds of Katydids in the park.  They look similar to grasshoppers, but are at the same time pretty distinctive.  Here are photos of three different kinds of Katydids.


Most of us are happy to call any insect a ‘bug’.  However, in zoology, the term ‘bug’ refers to a specific kind of insect that can be readily distinguished by its wings.  They belong to the order Heteroptera (formerly Hemiptera), which translates from Latin to “half wing”, which describes the structure of their wings.

If you look at the bug’s back, you will see an X shape, which is formed by a triangular shield at the top (below the orange line), the solid upper part of the wings, and the membranous ends of the wings.  The photo below, which show the wings well, is of a bordered plant bug.

014 Hueco Tanks - 213 Plant Bug - Version 2.jpg

The other true bug we have seen and could identify, is the Green Stink Bug.


Beetles are one of the largest orders of insects, and the park reflects that with the large number of beetles present.  The first ones we will mention are Blister Beetles, so named because if you pick them up, they secrete a fluid from their joints that will blister your skin.  One of the prettiest is a type of Desert Spider Beetle, specifically the Black Bladder-backed Meloid Beetle, shown below.

015 Hueco Tanks - 120 - Version 2 Black Bladder-bodied Meloid Beetle (Cysteodemus wislizeni).jpg

In the late summer and autumn there is another blister beetle roaming the park.  It is a black beetle with a very large abdomen with red stripes delineating the segments and very small wings.  The wings look somewhat larger on the male, which has a smaller abdomen, but neither one of them can fly.  This beetle is so uncommon that the only name it has is its Latin one: Megetra cancellata.  There are a few places outside the park where it can be seen, in other parts of Texas.  

We have photos of some other beetles that we have been able to identify.  The first one, the Fernandez Net-wing Beetle is shown on the Poison Milkweed plant, which is also popular with wasps.  Another one, which is very small, is a Metallic Wood-boring Beetle.  These and other beetles are pictured in the photo album.

The most surprising beetle find of all was the day we were looking for young toads and came across this Predacious Diving Beetle a few feet from the receding waters in Mescalero Canyon.  We picked him up and placed him back in the water, where he swam away happily.


There are many kinds of wasps in the park.  They are not dangerous as long as one does not deliberately aggravate them.  Most of these wasps do not have common names.  Perhaps the most intriguing wasp is the Tarantula Hawk.  There are at least two species of them that we have seen, one of which is about two inches long.  With their shiny black bodies and rusty orange wings they are easy to identify.  The wasp got its name because it parasitizes tarantulas.  The wasp paralyzes the tarantula, deposits its eggs inside the spider, and then drags the spider into a burrow.  When the eggs hatch they have a live food source.  The one time we saw a tarantula in the park, it had been paralyzed by a wasp.  We saw it when we were walking toward Newspaper Cave (Site 17), and by the time we passed that spot again, the tarantula was gone.  We have also spent time near a blooming shrub which was a popular feeding spot for these wasps, and they showed no interest in the people.

One insect which is really misnamed is the Velvet Ant: it is actually a flightless female wasp.  The Thread-waisted Wasp also has a rather unusual form.  We have included photos of several other wasps we’ve encountered in the park.


We would not really expect to see Dragonflies and their relatives out in the desert, but where there’s water, there are Dragonflies.  We have two photos of these insects in our photo album.  We have seen several other species which we have not been able to photograph.


If you’ve watched the video of the Texas Horned Lizard, you will have seen Rough Harvester Ants.  They are a large ant and there are colonies of them all over the park.  The black end of the ant is its head.  Another common sight on cacti, especially Prickly Pears, is a scale insect called Cochineal.  Cochineal has long been the source of a natural red dye.  Still in the insect category, we have Praying Mantis (for which we have also seen the egg case) and Walking Sticks.  On a recent tour we got to see a couple of fairly small lizards chase after a Walking Stick.  The lizards could definitely move faster than the Walking Stick, but apparently they did not quite know what to do with a Walking Stick, because both of them lost interest in it.

In the Arthropod category, we have Millipedes in the park.  The only ones we’ve seen have been the remains of dead ones.

One spider we’ve seen and been able to identify is the Jumping Spider.  There are of course many other kinds of spiders in the park.

Our latest find, during the 2014 Interpretive Fair weekend was a juvenile female Texas Brown Tarantula, which was absolutely beautiful, and fortunately hung around long enough for us to get pictures.

It’s an immature bug!  No, it’s a spider!  NOT!  It looks like a furry spider, but in actuality, the creature pictured above is a mite (a type of arachnid, related to spiders).  Specifically, it is a Giant Red Velvet Mite.  We saw a couple of these, which are about ½ inch long, after rain, on the trail near Newspaper Cave in early May, 2015.

We will continue to update this post and photo albums as we encounter and identify more insects.

© Susan L. Stone 2015                   rovingstones@me.com