Posts Tagged ‘tucson’

Waiting for the monsoon

Arizona has five seasons: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, and Monsoon. Monsoon is my favorite.

By late June or early July, intense summer heat on the interior of the continent sets up a weather pattern pulling tropical moisture up from the south. After several weeks of baking at 106° with not a cloud in sight, the humidity spikes and we get afternoon storm clouds building over the mountains, the first rain in months, and a very welcome drop in daytime highs.

We entomologists love the monsoon; that’s when the insects flourish. Ants hold their mating flights, jewel scarabs emerge, giant mesquite bugs mature.

So this time every year I check the weather obsessively. Our lab places bets on when the monsoon is due. The average is July 3rd, but this year seems advanced and I picked June 28th. I may already have erred too cautiously, this morning feels humid and the weather service is predicting a 20% chance of rain.

Fortunately for we weather geeks, the weather service provides some great tools for monsoon watching. My favorite is the time-lapse camera that monitors cloud build-up over the Catalina mountains north of the city. The camera sits atop a building just up the street from the entomology department, and is more or less the view we get from our own building.

Update:  Yay!

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Derobrachus hovoreiPalo Verde Borer
Tucson, Arizona

Every June, hundreds of thousands of giant beetles emerge from beneath the Tucsonian soil. The enormous size of these beetles- up to several inches long- makes them among the most memorable of Tucson’s insects. They cruise about clumsily in the evenings, flying at eye level as they disperse and look for mates.

Palo Verde beetles spend most of their lives as subterranean grubs feeding on the roots of Palo Verde trees. Adults emerge in early summer, usually ahead of the monsoon, and by August they are gone.

It is still a bit too early in June to see them, but in anticipation of this year’s emergence I am posting photos I took in 2006.

photo details: Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens on a Canon 20D
top photo: indirect strobe in a white box
bottom photo: natural light at dusk

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We went down to the Rialto last night to catch a benefit concert by Calexico. Best show I’ve seen in ages. They pull off an unexpected blend of mariachi, folk, and straight-up rock, including a Neil Young cover featuring two full mariachi bands and a slew of guest vocalists on stage. Calexico is perhaps Tucson’s most successful troupe of local musicians, capturing the dual American-Mexican character of the city.  Watch the video, though, to see for yourself.

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