Eek! 8 Bugs and Arachnids in Arizona That Give Us the Chills

By Jessica Swarner

August 9, 2023

Did you know that the most toxic insect venom can be found in the Grand Canyon State?

Arizona is known for having some formidable creatures: scorpions, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and more. 

But there are lots more creepy crawlies in the state, including beetles that cause blisters, bugs that suck blood (that aren’t mosquitoes!), and wasps that can paralyze their prey. 

Read on to learn more about some of the bugs and arachnids giving people the heebie-jeebies across the state. 

Iron Cross Blister Beetle

Tegrodera aloga

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(Creative Commons Photo/David Bygott)

This beetle, found in Arizona, California, and Sonora, is brightly colored for a reason: it’s a warning that it carries a toxin. 

The Iron Cross Blister Beetle, which can be up to 1.5 inches long, secretes a toxin called cantharidin from its antennae and legs that causes severe skin blisters and can kill livestock if eaten. Cantharidin can be helpful to humans, though—it’s been used in medications for wart and tattoo removal. 

The beetle’s Iron Cross name comes from the black stripes that appear on its bright yellow back. They have a special connection to the palo verde tree, too. Females seek them out to lay their eggs at the base of the tree’s buds. 

Maricopa Harvester Ant

Pogonomyrmex maricopa

Most toxic insect venom

Not only does Arizona have creepy bugs, it has world-record-setting creepy bugs. In this case, the world record is for the most toxic venom in an insect. 

Maricopa harvester ants, which are native to the Grand Canyon state, attack by latching onto a victim and stinging it as many times as it can. Just 12 stings containing their venom can kill a rat weighing about four pounds.

The venom releases a pheromone that lets other ants nearby know that it’s being used. It would take about 350 stings to kill a 150-pound human, which could add up fast if multiple ants were attacking.

This ant is also found in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Mexico. 

Palo Verde Beetle

Derobrachus hovorei

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(Shutterstock Photo/Jason Mintzer)

Palo verde beetles fall into the category of insects that aren’t actually dangerous, but still freak people out. The three-inch bugs can bite people and pets if they get close to the insect’s head, but they are not poisonous. They are attracted to light, but they rarely enter homes.  

When the beetles are babies, they’re called “grubs,” and they feed on tree roots for three to four years. They seem to prefer palo verde tree roots, hence their name, but they can feed on a number of plants. When they mature and come out of the ground to mate, they leave behind holes with openings about the size of a quarter. 

The adult beetles emerge from the ground in the summer months and are mostly active at night. Instead of eating, they rely on energy they store up during their larval stage, and they die shortly after reproducing. 

Tarantula Hawks

Pepsis thisbe

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(Shutterstock Photo/Sari ONeal)

Tarantula hawks are not an insect to mess with. These wasps have blue bodies and orange wings, can grow to around two  inches, and are found in the US Southwest. Males don’t have stingers and feed on flowers, while females hunt tarantulas to feed their larvae. 

The female tarantula hawks paralyze tarantulas with their stingers, bring them back to their nests, lay eggs in the spider’s abdomens, then cover the nest’s entrance to block the spider in. The hawks’ larvae feed on the living spider for weeks. 

The wasps luckily won’t sting unless provoked—their sting is considered the second-most painful sting of an insect. 

Hualapai Tiger

Triatoma rubida

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(Shutterstock Photo/Usha Roy)

The Hualapia tiger, also known as the kissing bug, feeds on…blood. The insects lay pearly cone-shaped eggs which hatch into nymphs that require blood meals to grow. The nymphs mature into adults in one to two years. 

Hualapai tigers can enter homes and feed on humans, and they’re active at night. According to the University of Arizona, the bugs won’t go under sheets or clothes and prefer exposed skin like the face, which gives them the “kissing bug” moniker. The bites are painless but can cause a welt. 

After feeding, the insects don’t go far, so they can often be found between a bed frame and mattress. The females also don’t lay their eggs far from food, so if one is found in a house, the university recommends checking for eggs laid in sheets and vacuuming often. 

Sun Spider

Solifugae

shutterstock 683462344

(Shutterstock Photo/Deep Desert Photography)

Sun spiders—despite not actually being spiders—are also called camel spiders, solpugids, and wind scorpions. But whatever name they go by, they sure are creepy. 

They can be over an inch long in the US but in other parts of the world, they can be over five  inches. They can move very quickly and are active at night. They eat their prey by crushing them with their fangs and sucking out the prey’s bodily fluids, while eating smaller bits and discarding the large parts. 

The University of Arizona calls them “beneficial predators,” as they eat other insects and sometimes scorpions. They can bite humans and cause pain if provoked, but they are not poisonous. 

Sewer Roach

Periplaneta americana

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(Shutterstock Photo/Steve Bower)

Sewer roaches, also known as the American cockroach or Palmetto water bug, are the largest cockroaches commonly found in Arizona, growing up to two inches long. 

They seek warm, damp spaces, often leading them to dwell in sewer systems and enter homes through plumbing systems. They have six legs, antennae, and wings, although they rarely fly. 

The bugs themselves are not dangerous, but they can contaminate food, spread disease, and trigger asthma attacks. They are unfortunately resilient and difficult to drive out of a home. 

Desert Recluse

Loxosceles deserta

Desert Recluse

(Creative Commons Photo/DesertTrip)

While brown recluse spiders are mostly found in the Midwest, desert recluses—also known as Arizona recluses—are found in the Southwest. Their bites are venomous and can cause a sore that can take weeks to heal. 

Desert recluses look similar to brown recluses in that they are both brown and have violin-shaped markings on their backs. They are usually found in rats’ nests, cacti, and in dark, undisturbed spaces like cinder blocks and piles of clothing. The spiders feed on other insects and usually live one to three years. 

MORE READING: Your 2023 Guide to Moonlight Hiking in Arizona

Author

  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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