Arachnids and Insects

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Arachnids and Insects in the Old West

These are the arachnids and insects that might have most affected our Western ancestors. Most of these brought a certain amount of discomfort, misery or downright danger. Control methods were few and primitive. A lot of the time, one just put up with the problem…

Hurrah for Lane County, the land of the free,
The home of the grasshopper, bedbug and flea,
I’ll holler it’s praises and sing of it’s fame,
While starving to death on a government claim.

Starving to Death on a Government Claim – Plains Folksong

OWDR Bed Bug WebBed Bug (Cimex lectularius) Way back when… the word bug or bugge or any variant, originally meant bedbug; that’s how old the relationship is. They were anywhere and everywhere in the Old West; the lower down the ladder the “lodging” was, the more likely they were there. Only in modern times have these blood sucking insects been controlled and they’ve been coming back strong in recent years anyway. Just one of the little background issues of the times.  Photo: U.S. PD, US CDC  {001}

 

OWDR Western Black Widow Spider WebBlack Widow Spider (Latrodectus hesperus) Everybody knows the danger of this lady! The closer you live to the earth, the closer you live to such as these. The poison is neurotoxic, the nearer to the heart, the more danger to the bite. Even so, the bite is rarely fatal if appropriate care is obtained. One can imagine that teepee’s, wikiup’s, soddies and wood cabins must have seemed like good housing to these spiders. Photo: U.S. PD, Bloomingdedalus, 09/2013  {001}

 

OWDR Brown Recluse Spider WebBrown Recluse Spider (Loxosceles reclusa) [aka: fiddleback spider, brown fiddler, or violin spider]. Here is the other dangerous western Spider. This one likely won’t kill you but you may definitely regret the experience. Bites are rare, but the hemotoxic venom from these critters will cause the area around the bite to fester and rot (necrosis) about 50% of the time; a decidedly uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. There are some other rare nasties that can occur.  Occasional fatalities can be expected in young children. Find ’em inside, outside, the woodpile, in you gloves… Photo: Ladyb695, 08/2013  {001}

 

OWDR Field Cricket Gryllus assimilis WebField Cricket (Gryllidae various) The forewing night song of these common insects is well known to us all. What modern folks may forget is that this creature can be a serious pest. They can attack crops and they will eat cloth and other items in the teepee, cabin or million dollar home. Photo: U.S. PD, USDA – Snodgrass  {001}

 

 

OWDR Flea WebFlea (Siphonaptera, various): Another small [1.5 – 3 mm] bloodsucking insect who has been accompanying us for thousands of years. As with lice, you may be assured that every flophouse and plenty of the brothels and hotels provided them at no charge. Vector for a panoply of diseases and maladies: Bubonic plague; Tularemia; Typhus and a number of other bacterial, viral, rickettsial and protozoan diseases. Photo: U.S. PD, US CDC, False Color Scanning Electron Micrograph  {001}
see:
The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – Disease Bubonic plague; Tularemia & Typhus

 

OWDR German Roach WebGerman Cockroach (Blattella germanica) aka: croton bug. Very old [Carboniferous period], originally from Africa; today, world wide in human habitation. An omnivorous scavenger with a taste for sugar, starch, grease and meats. Might try glue or soap as well. Extremely adept at living in warm structures and impossible to eradicate before modern control methods. Not a serious disease vector but contaminates food and the living space itself with bacteria, droppings etc. Not fun to live with, if you can smell them, you have way too many. Many building in old western towns had ’em. Photo: © 2007 David Monniaux by permission  {001}

 

OWDR Grasshopper WebGrasshopper (Caelifera, sp) A seasonal, plant eating insect, which can come in great numbers on occasion and may be the source of an alternate form called a locust depending on species (see: Rocky Mountain Locust (below). This insect can have a devastating effect on a garden in a very short time even if it doesn’t arrive in giant swarms. Photo: U.S. PD, 2008 Divortygirl  {001}

 

OWDR Horse fly WebHorse Fly (Tabanus sp) Numerous species, aka: breeze fly; deer fly;  klegs and others. The males feed mainly on nectar but the female is a nasty, biting, bloodsucker, seeking protein from the blood to produce eggs. She can be very persistent in pursuit. Transmitters of some blood-borne diseases: equine infectious anaemia virus, some Trypanosoma species and occasionally tularemia. If the fly infestation is large, animals can be seriously weakened by loss of blood. Animals can lose up to 300 milliliters of blood in a single day to the insects. Reduced growth rates in cattle and lower milk output from cows can occur. Horseflies prefer to fly in sunlight, avoiding dark and shady areas, and are inactive at night. Photo: U.S. PD Dennis Ray 2005)  {001}
see also:
The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – DiseaseTularemia

 

OWDR Honeybee WebHoney Bee (Apis mellifera) [European Honeybee -there are other subspecies] Introduced by European colonists to the new world c. 1600.  Likely the most economically valuable insect in the world. Honey, beeswax and several other bee produced products have been harvested by man for thousands of years, but true value of the bees is the pollination of plants. Utah came to be called the Beehive state. Photo: U.S. PD 2009 Maciej Czyżewski  {001}

 

OWDR Common House fly WebHouse Fly (Musca domestica) Ever the bane of man, they brought the same “services” for good and ill as they do today. They are part of the clean-up crew but also bring via mechanical transmission of organisms on its hairs, mouthparts, vomitus and feces: parasitic diseases: cysts of protozoa e.g. Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia lamblia and eggs of helminths, e.g., Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura, Hymenolepis nana, Enterobius vermicularis. Bacterial diseases: typhoid, cholera, dysentery, pyogenic cocci, etc. Viruses: enteroviruses: poliomyelitis, viral hepatitis, etc. Control of any fly was almost non-existent in the old days. Photo: U.S. PD, Joejhalda 2011  {001}
see also:
The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – DiseaseGiardia lamblia & others

 

OWDR Bacon Beetle WebLarder Beetle (Dermestes lardarius) aka: Bacon Beetle. The adults feed on flowers and shrubs, it’s the very active, hairy larvae that do the damage. They will eat: cotton, feathers, fur, leather, linen, meat, silk, wool and other natural and animal products (this is probably the short list). Think maybe four generations a year. Other relatives: The Hide Beetle (Dermestes maculatus) aka: Leather or Skin Beetle. This one could do serious damage to raw hides. There are also several species of carpet beetles; OWDR Carpet Beetle Anthrenus verbasci Webex. Black Carpet Beetle (Attagenus megatoma) who is wont to dine upon keratin [animal hair, feathers) among other things. Any or all of these could be a serious pest in the old days, as there were no effective control methods available. Photos: U.S. PD – LH Varied Carpet Beetle – (Anthrenus verbasci) André Karwath 2005; RH Drawing – Larder Beetle, 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.  {001}

 

OWDR Body Louse WebLice: [crumbs, crabs] The Body Louse (Pediculus humanus humanus) and the Head Louse (Pediculus humanus capitis): These little bloodsuckers [2-3 mm] have been with us for a very long time and they are still out there. You better believe they were common in the Old West. Think miners flophouse c. 1876, Virginia City, NV. The RR men knew them well and called a caboose a ‘crummy”.  They might be the least of the problems acquired from a “Parlor House“; the worst might be Typhus. Photo:US CDC – Janice Harney Carr, 2006  {001}
see:
The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – Disease Typhus

 

OWDR Sarcoptes scabei WebOWDR House Dust Mite WebMites: (Sarcoptes scabiei, RH) these are skin burrowers, the cause of scabies [mange] and (Dermatophagoides farinae, LH) The common dust mite. This one brings allergies, asthma, hay fever and other personal woes when we breathe them in from the environment.. There are multitudinous cousins who bring other discomforts but these two are certainly representative of the group. These critters have been with us a long time and our ancestors definitely suffered from their presence. Most folks didn’t know they were there and there was no real defense in those days. Photos: U.S. PD, RH 2005 Quadell; LH 2004 Kalumet. {001}
see:
The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – DiseaseMange

 

Mosquitoes:
OWDR Aedes aegypti EA Goeldi_1905 Web
Aedes aegypti: This one’s a bad girl, only the female bites; vector for Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever* and others. For Example: excessive rain around Memphis, TN in 1878 made too much open water and the mosquitoes hatched in the millions and they brought Yellow Fever up and down the Mississippi River Valley; an estimated 20,000 died. Today, around 200,000 cases a year and some 30,000 deaths worldwide. Control of the disease is focusing on control of the mosquito via genetic manipulation. Photo: U.S. PD, E. A. Goeldi (1905) – Color print of the yellow fever or dengue mosquito Aedes aegypti (then called Stegomyia fasciata, today also Stegomyia aegypti). To the left, the male, in the middle and on the right, the female. Above left, a flying pair in copula.
OWDR Anopheles stephensi CDCAnopheles fluviatitis (west coast) and A. pseudopunctipennis (in the southwest); these mosquitoes are the vector for malaria**; again it’s the female that’s dangerous.  While not nearly the hazard of yellow fever in the old west, it certainly took victims in some areas. Photo: U.S. PD 2003, US CDC -A. stephensi, this one is an old world mosquito but you see how it does it…  {001}
see:
*The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – Disease Yellow Fever
**The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – Disease Malaria

 

OWR Mormon Cricket WebOWDR Mormon Cricket Swarm WebMormon cricket (Anabrus simplex): Not a cricket, at all, it’s a katydid. But which it is, really didn’t matter to the Mormon pioneers who encountered them.  Up to seven centimeters in length and the thing swarms; fortunately it can’t fly. Devastating to crops, the swarm eats everything it encounters, small animals, other insects, itself… until you have seen it up close and personal, it’s hard to believe. Driving on a road covered with them and slicked by the crushed ones, can be interesting to say the least. They are still out there. Some Indian tribes considered them a delicacy when served roasted.* Photos: U.S. PD, LH Katie Madonia, Nevada 2006; RH Brian Head 09/2005  {001}
see:
*Wk. 23, 06/09/1848 – Miracle of the Gulls

 

OWDR RkyMtn Locusts 1870 WebRocky Mountain Locust (Melanoplus spretus): Note the picture just above, of swarming Mormon Crickets and consider this: this thing could fly… and it was thought to have been the most common macroscopic creature in the history of the earth. Large swarms would arise once every seven to ten years, spreading from the eastern water shed of the Rockies, then east into the great plains. Less rain brought larger swarms and the west and mid-west had been in drought since 1873. The largest swarm (1874) was 1,800 miles long, 110 miles wide and stretched from Canada to Texas. At it’s peak, the total bulk of insects was comparable to the 60 million bison that had previously roamed the region.
Witnesses said the locusts arrived like a heavy winter snow and covered everything they encountered. The clattering of their wings sounded like thunder, tornados, or trains and carpeted the ground, almost a foot deep. They devoured almost all vegetation encountered and consumed the bark of some tree species. Trees bowed over with the mass of them. They gnawed buildings, fence posts and the wooden handles of farm tools. They ate leather harness right off horses in the field . Window curtains and laundry on the line didn’t stand a chance.  Desperate farmers who tried to chase them away by running into the swarm, had their cotton and hemp clothing eaten off their bodies. Wisdom of the times said, “They ate everything but the mortgage.”
OWDR Rky Mtn Locust WdCt LOC WebFarmers endured similar swarms in the following years. After about a decade the rains returned and the swarms declined. Within a few decades, the Rocky Mountain locusts were believed to be extinct possibly due to some combination of the extensive plowing in the west, beaver trapping, which resulted in more flooding of locust habitat, and the proliferation of cattle trampling the insect egg clusters. The last live collected specimens (1902), are now at the Smithsonian. The mystery of their disappearance remains and the question; will they return?
Some entomologists believe when environmental conditions once again become optimal, a form of locust may very well emerge spontaneously from remote colonies or a common grasshopper species capable of transforming into locust. These insect families have endured the repeated Ice Ages of the Pleistocene Epoch, out-survived megafauna from mastodons and New World camels to free-roaming bison, and today seem to survive quite nicely amidst powerful pesticides and genetically manipulated crops. They are edible. Photo: RH, U.S. PD, Jacoby’s Art Gallery, 1870. & a Woodcut: LH U.S. PD LOC.  {003 and 001}
see:
Wk. 29, 07/20/1874 – Rocky Mountain Locusts
Wk. 37, 09/14/1895 – Charles Valentine Riley

 

OWDR Tick Ixodes_scapularis WebRocky Mountain Wood Tick (Dermacentor andersoni): Active in The Rocky Mountains from maybe February to July. This little bloodsucker can bring either Colorado Tick Fever or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Climbs high on grasses, bushes etc. and brushes onto passersby. After a blood meal, it drops off again. Not good then or now. We can be sure some old-timers went to the happy hunting ground by meeting one of these. Spotted fever’s the bad one here. Photo: U.S. PD, US Gov  {001}
see:
The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – DiseaseColorado Tick Fever
The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – DiseaseLyme Disease
The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – DiseaseRocky Mountain Spotted Fever

 

OWDR AZ Bark Scorpion ultraviolet WebOWDR AZ Bark Scorpion WebScorpions: Arizona Bark Scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus): The nocturnal one in the photos. Its venom is a cocktail of neurotoxins, the most dangerous in North America. Very painful sting but few deaths. There are many species of scorpions, it’s often the little clear ones you don’t see. They all get under things; rocks, wood piles, hides on the ground…  Attitude, venom and habitat varies widely by species. LH Photo: U.S. PD, Brian Basgen, 06/2008  RH Photo: U.S. PD, Bryce Alexander, 04/2008, Ultraviolet Light  {001}

 

OWDR Silverfish Lepisma Saccharina WebSilverfish (Lepisma saccharina) aka: This primitive, nocturnal, starch and sugar eater [catch that last Latin name] can do serious damage. It eats: book bindings, carpet, clothing, coffee, cotton, dandruff, glue, hair, leather (sometimes), linen, paints (some), paper, photos, plaster, silk, sugar, various dead things and, no doubt, numerous other items as well. These old-timers [late carboniferous to present} are unpleasant destroyers of property and foodstuffs but they pose no disease threat. Photo: U.S. PD, Christian Fischer 2013  {001}

 

OWDR Trantula-Red Kneed Web
Tarantula (Theraphosidae family): Big [8 to 10 cm], hairy, scary [big fangs] and harmless. If you were in Tarantula country, you saw them. Noted here because of their “reputation” and because they appear in the folklore. These guys are likely to “posture” before they bite and bites are rare. Bites may have a tendency to infect but the venom is not particularly toxic to humans.
Photo: U.S. PD, George Chernilevsky, 08/2009; a Mexican redknee (Brachypelma smithi)  {001}
(My kids had several as pets [they can live 20+ years] and they were interesting housemates; never a problem. Fed ’em on mealworms. – Doc)

OWDR Wheat Weevil WebWeevils (Curculionoidea superfamily) With some 60,000 species to consider, our interest is in those who damage crops and stored foodstuffs. These guys got into nearly everything that had a grain product involved. This one, the grain or Wheat Weevil (Sitophilus granarius) [3 to 5 mm] was the primary culprit in the Old West; attacking wheat, oats, rye, barley, rice and corn and products containing these grains, flour, for example. Economic loss in the growing of crops is one thing, but if it’s your crop or winter stores that are infested, it’s quite another. Photo: U.S. PD, Sarefo, 09/2007  {001}

 

See also:
The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – Animals Index page
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants

OWDR-barbed-wire-divider2End Page: Arachnids and Insects

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