Unique Insect Species Adapt To Live In Arizona Caves

August 15, 2014

(Photo courtesy of Kartchner Caverns State Parks)

Scorpions, tarantulas and centipedes, OH MY! Arizona residents are not in the dark about the many creepy crawlers living in our desert, but some of our bugs live in the dark. There’s a unique population of insects in our caves and caverns. And there’s a lot we still have to learn about them.

In Kartchner Caverns, an hour outside Tucson, a new species of cave-dwelling, predatory stink bug was discovered. There are more than 40 different arthropods, centipedes, spiders and beetles, for example, living in those caves. And you may not find those species in any other cave in the world.

"These caves tend to be like little islands in a big ocean of non-caves," said Nico Franz of the University of Arizona. "And these islands have their unique populations that, you know, are often millions of years old."

Franz said the bugs aren’t native to caves, as the caves are often younger than these well-established species. Instead, groups of bugs colonize the caves, adapting and evolving to fit their environment, and are very different from their relatives living in the sun.

"Cave-inhabiting insects tend to be bland, even white-ish," Franz said. "They often times tend to lose their wings in the course of evolution. Their eyes are often reduced or even completely lost. Their other sensory organs are highly developed."

If the world of bugs makes your skin crawl with excitement, you can learn more about our native species this weekend at Kartchner Caverns. A University of Arizona entomologist will lead a lecture and scorpion walk Saturday night at 7.