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Desert Diary

Arthropods/Insect Instinct


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Insects and related animals seem to be guided much more by instinct than by anything that we would call thought. A favorite theme of many nature writers is to point out how, under artificial conditions, instincts can lead animals astray. Some caterpillars, for example, will circle around the rim of a drinking glass until their energy is gone, believing that eventually this strange twig must lead to eatable leaves. Yet, imagine the constant terror many of these creatures would live under if they had the intelligence to feel fear.

Our desert abounds with predatory insects, centipedes, spiders, scorpions, and a myriad of other invertebrates intent on making a meal. And then there are the giants, the mammals and birds not adverse to shopping for small creatures prepackaged in armor. If you're small, you don't even have to be a tasty morsel to be done in. In walking through our desert byways, how often have you inadvertently crushed the life from a beetle or ant whose only sin was to be under your foot at the wrong time!
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.