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Desert Diary

Arthropods/Real Bugs


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If you've ever been around an entomologist—someone who studies insects—you may have notice a pained look when you talk about bugs. You see, to a student of insects, a "bug" isn't just any creepy, crawly thing, but refers to a specific group. Thus, to an entomologist, that caterpillar climbing up your arm isn't a bug at all! In fact, despite the name, even the Ladybug's not a bug.

True bugs have a long beak used to suck juices from living things. Now in most cases, the juice is the sap of a plant. Some, however, feed on the body fluids of other insects or even on the blood of vertebrates. Some of these night-time blood suckers are common in the Chihuahuan Desert, though luckily most concentrate on non-human prey such as packrats. They're not always finicky, however, and a hard, itchy welt found upon awakening may their calling card. Farther south, some kinds carry Chagas disease, and some people believe they were responsible for the semi-invalid life of Charles Darwin after his return from the New World.

pen and ink

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.

Kissing Bug

A kissing bug (after Lutz, 1921).



Web Resources

Darwin's Illness.