Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Living off the Land
June 29, 1999
Cantaloupe harvest time pushed back
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, June 19, 1999 -- Melon lovers will have to wait until after the
West of the Pecos Rodeo to get their fill of Pecos Sweet cantaloupes.
The harvest is later than in recent harvest seasons because black plastic
that warms the ground and speeds maturity was not used on the beds this
Randy Taylor, who is the largest cantaloupe grower in the area, said
that the black plastic caused the melons to get too hot in last summer's
prolonged heat wave, lowering the quality.
Clay Taylor said that he expects the sweet melons to start coming in
to the Pecos Cantaloupe Shed on the Balmorhea Highway sometime after July
"The crop looks good," Taylor said. "Acreage is down because some growers
Hail that damaged 1,250 acres of Taylor cantaloupes and onions about
five or six weeks ago didn't hurt the cantaloupe yield much, Taylor said.
And onions keep flowing into the sheds daily. Taylor said they are about
to finish up with the crop that was planted last fall and winter, and will
take a break of about a week before starting on the transplants.
"The onion crop is good," he said.
Both onions and cantaloupes are processed, packaged and shipped from
sheds at the Balmorhea Highway location. Pecos Cantaloupe also operates
an onion shed on North Willow Street.
Workman to supervise weevil eradication
PECOS, June 19, 1999 -- Michael Workman is the field unit supervisor
for the Pecos District of the El Paso/Trans Pecos Eradication Zone.
The Pecos High School alumnus recently received his B.S. degree in industrial
technology from Sul Ross State University.
Gidgette Whitfield was appointed field clerk for the Pecos office.
Izelda Cassiano has been appointed as FUS in Tornillo.
Tornillo is serving as zone headquarters for the 15 county boll weevil
eradication zone, approved by area cotton growers earlier this year.
"We are pleased to have such a well qualified employee base in the EP/TP
eradication zone," said Program Director Osama El-Lissy.
"Seasoned professionals have been placed in key positions throughout
the zone ensuring the EP/TP eradication zone will commence their diapause
program with a very good depth of knowledge," added El-Lissy. "We encourage
growers to visit the local offices and meet the staff," El-Lissy said.
District Supervisor Larry Rodgers will oversee the entire zone previously
serving with the Foundation in the South Texas/Winter Garden Boll Weevil
Eradication Zone as field unit supervisor.
The EP/TP eradication zone consists of approximately 60,000 acres in
Brewster, Crane, Crockett, Culberson, El Paso, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Loving,
Pecos, Presidio, Reeves, Terrell, Val Verde, Ward and Winkler
Rains fall in right spot to help Red Bluff Lake
By JON FULBRIGHT
PECOS, June 19, 1999 -- Red Bluff Lake got a badly-needed infusion of
water this past week, as heavy rains in northern Reeves, Loving and Culberson
counties and southern Eddy County New Mexico lifted the lake's level by
"We got about 20,000 acre/feet in the lake," Red Bluff General Manager
Jim Ed Miller said Saturday. "The rains just happened to fall in the right
spot for us."
Flash flood warnings were issued last Tuesday for northern Reeves and
Culberson counties, and much of that water ended up in the lake, located
40 miles northwest of Pecos. Brush and lakeside dirt roads normally out
of the water at this time of year were partially covered by the lake, while
boaters and jet skiers had a little more area to move around in thanks
to the strong storms, as the mercury soared to 110 degrees.
Other water from the rains flowed into Screwbean Draw, just south of
Red Bluff Dam. Water was still flowing over the low-water crossing on Saturday,
four days after the rains.
Heavy snows at the end of 1997 in northern New Mexico and around the
Roswell area had allowed extra water releases into Red Bluff, which pushed
the lake's level to nearly 100,000 acre/feet prior to the beginning of
the water release season in the Spring of 1998.
But little rain fell either in New Mexico or in the Red Bluff watershed
during 1998, and as a result, the Red Bluff Water Power Control District
board set 1999's water allocations at 25,000 acre/feet in February, down
37 percent from the 40,000 acre/feet allotted the previous year.
At the time the allocation was made, board member Lloyd Goodrich said
the lake had 70,756 acre/feet of water, and due to water losses downriver,
Miller said at the time the allotment was made it takes about a 50,000
acre/feet release to deliver the 25,000 acre/feet to farms downstream.
Goodrich said releases downstream to farmers in Reeves, Loving, Ward
and Pecos counties had to be cut back to keep the lake's level at no less
than 20,000 acre/feet. "We've had it as low as 13,600, but when you do
that the core gets low and the dam cracks," said Goodrich.
Tarantulas' size, reputation subjects for exaggeration
By Rex D. Friesen, Ph.D.
Pecos, Reeves, and
Since I have been discussing spiders in past articles, no such discussion
would be complete without talking about the tarantula, since nearly everyone
in West Texas has seen one or has a "Tarantula story" to tell. Tarantulas
are familiar sights on the highways, in vacant lots, pastures, and occasionally
in garages and back yards during some summer months.
As you recall, the two most dangerous spider venoms are those of the
brown recluse and black widow. When people ask if tarantulas are poisonous,
my answer is usually "yes, but...." The truth of the matter is that all
spiders are poisonous-the primary differences are in the types of venom
they have and the amount they inject.
Tarantulas also have venom, but it is not of a type that is normally
very dangerous to humans unless the person is allergic to it. Most accounts
that I am aware of compare a tarantula bite to that of a bee sting, but
I cannot verify this personally, and do not plan on doing it, either.
The fame of the tarantula comes from 1) their impressive size and 2)
their hairiness. The bodies of local tarantulas typically measure about
1 1/2 inches long, or so, with a leg span of about 4-5 inches across. Before
you come in and tell me of the "monster" you have seen that was much bigger
than that, catch it and measure it yourself-it may save you a trip!
While our species are the largest spiders North of the Rio Grande, the
leg span of some Central and South American and African species have been
measured at up to nearly a foot across. Those spiders feed on insects,
small birds, mammals and reptiles! While many foreign species are arboreal
-- that is, they prefer to live almost entirely or entirely in trees --
our species are terrestrial and prefer to live on the ground. Terrestrial
species are actually quite fragile and may die from injuries due to only
a short fall.
Tarantulas feed on a variety of prey-beetles, grasshoppers, crickets,
scorpions, small lizards, etc., just about whatever is small enough for
them to subdue.
As a note, all spiders, including tarantulas, can only ingest a liquid
diet. In addition to drinking the body fluids of their prey (called the
haemolymph), they also inject enzymes into the prey's body to liquefy the
internal muscles and organs so that they can drink them as well. Although
tarantulas will turn their prey into a small pile of parts and pieces,
they are actually eating only the dissolved tissues.
According to a recent work on the subject, there are 14 different species
of tarantulas in Texas, and you basically have to be a professional to
tell them apart. Most of them range in color from a medium brown to nearly
black, and of course, are very hairy. The really colorful ones you see
in pet stores or on nature programs usually come from Mexico or some other
Some tarantulas you see may have "bald spots" on their abdomens, but
this is normal because these hairs are only loosely attached by design.
Although the bald spots may be due simply to the wear and tear of old age,
it may also be due to their defensive behavior where they use their legs
to kick up these loosely-attached "urticating", or, "irritating" hairs
onto an enemy when threatened or provoked. The urticating hairs may cause
rashes or other discomfort if gotten on the skin or in the eyes. If provoked,
tarantulas typically try to flee or may rear up on their hind legs and
try to scare you or whatever away. In such cases, they may also bite if
given the opportunity.
Texas tarantulas typically inhabit semi-open grassland and desert areas,
and dig their own burrows or make use of abandoned animal burrows, rocks,
logs, etc. to hide in or under during the heat of the day. Surprisingly
(to me anyway), tarantulas do spin a "web" of sorts-they may cover the
ground surrounding their hiding place with a thin blanket of silk which
helps alert them when prey wanders over
Tarantulas have relatively poor vision and hunt primarily by detecting
vibrations from movement close to them. Tarantulas typically move quite
slowly and deliberately, but are capable of surprising bursts of speed
when lunging at their prey (if you have never seen one feed in captivity,
you are missing something!). The tarantulas that most people see are wandering
on highways or side-roads early to mid-morning or early evening during
some of the summer months. Those that are wandering about are males that
are assumed to be looking for females, although this explanation for the
wandering has never actually been confirmed.
Female tarantulas will lay from 100 to 1,000 eggs in an egg sac that
she guards within her burrow. After hatching, the spiderlings leave the
nest in a few days. It is suspected that mortality of the young spiders
is very high once they leave the mother's burrow, as many types of invertebrate
and vertebrate predators feed on spiders, e.g., other spiders, wasps, lizards,
One of the most impressive predators of tarantulas is the large, dark
blue wasp with bright orange wings that you may see flying across a highway
in front of your car or commonly foraging for nectar on mesquite or salt
cedar blooms out in the country. This wasp is the "tarantula hawk", Pesis
sp. They attack the tarantula and sting it on the underside of the spider
when it rears up in defense. The wasp then drags the paralyzed spider back
to a pre-dug burrow, deposits the tarantula, and lays an egg on it. After
closing the burrow, the egg of the tarantula hawk hatches and the larva
feeds and completes its development on the alive but motionless spider,
eventually killing it. The larva pupates and later emerges as an adult
Tarantulas are often kept as "pets", and are commonly sold as such.
I have personally allowed tarantulas to crawl on my hands or arm in years
past, but I am now much more hesitant-why tempt fate?
People may say of their tarantula, "this one is safe to hold...it's
tame". Before taking them up on their offer stop and ask yourself, "how
do you tame a predator that has a brain the size of a BB"? Maybe it truly
is safe, but also remember a tarantula is a creature that 1) scares easily,
and 2) often has food "on its mind"-biting is its response in either case.
Tarantulas in a terrarium make fascinating creatures to observe and study,
but handling them is not encouraged.
In captivity, adult female tarantulas are reported as commonly living
20 or more years. Males are much shorter lived, usually not more than a
year or two passed adulthood-more commonly only several months. If you
are planning on purchasing a tarantula, you may want to specify a female
for this reason.
If you are considering keeping a tarantula in captivity, there is a
lot more detailed information available than I am presenting in this article
to help you ensure the health and happiness of your spider. In general,
give your spider space, something to hide under (such as an open tin can
on its side), food (such as a cricket every couple of days or so), and
water (a water dish is essential), and avoid placing items in the cage
that the spider could injure itself on; e.g., cactus-they may add to the
aesthetic beauty of your terrarium, but are not a good idea.
Finally, as for the "folklore" that tarantulas can predict rain, I have
not been able to find resources, formal studies, or anything else to verify
or refute this. To qualify as an "folklore", at least a few people must
have observed it (you would think)-I've certainly heard it said more than
once. Tarantulas certainly appear to be more common just before a rain!
So, you can conduct your own study-when you see tarantulas out and about,
make a mental note and see if it rains or not and solve the question once
and for all!
Strange-looking bug in arachnid family
By Rex D. Friesen, Ph.D.
Pecos, Reeves, and
Some call it a spider, some a scorpion, but most don't know what to
call it. Solpugids, also known as wind scorpions, sun scorpions, sun spiders,
or wind spiders, are certainly one of the "Top 5" most common animals people
call me about or bring in to my office to identify.
I personally prefer the name "solpugid" because the other names may
lead to confusion as to their true identity, thus eliminating the need
to clarify that they really are neither a spider nor a scorpion. Calls
regarding solpugids usually begin some time in the spring and continue
pretty much through the summer.
What exactly is a solpugid? It has features that make it look like a
cross between a scorpion and a spider. It is grouped with the arachnids
(the same group as spiders, ticks, scorpions, and vinegaroons), but does
not appear to be closely related to any of them.
There are reportedly more than 120 described species, with 26 of them
being found in Texas. Like most arthropods, it takes an expert to tell
the species apart. Their color is usually tan to gray-brown and they are
quite hairy. Females are indistinguishable from males.
The size of solpugids varies, but most I have seen are an inch long
or less, not counting the legs and pedipalps ("feelers"). The largest one
I have seen/caught is just shy of two inches long, which is a large specimen.
Adding legs and pedipalps, they may span three inches or more.
Solpugids have eight legs, but glancing at them you would probably count
ten-the front pair are actually not legs, but sensory "pedipalps" used
to taste and smell. I have also seen them use the front pedipalps to "walk
up" a pane of glass! The first pair of true legs are long and thin and
are also used as "feelers"--walking and running are performed on the last
three pairs of legs. On the underside of each of the last pair of legs
solpugids have an interesting set of five T-shaped racquet organs that
are also sensory in function.
The general body shape and color resemble a scorpion except that it
does not have pincers or a tail. It does have a pair of very ferocious-looking
jaws in front that when people see them they naturally think "this thing
could be dangerous"!
Despite their appearance, solpugids are not dangerous to humans. Although
they look ferocious and can bite aggressively (if you poke them with a
pencil or small stick they will latch on to it without hesitation), they
do not possess venom glands so supposedly the worst you'll get is a strong
pinch -- I have not personally verified this.
They are nocturnal creatures, usually hiding during the day under stones,
wood, etc., and coming out at twilight or later to search for insect prey.
They are impressive burrowers, using their jaws and pedipalps like a small
backhoe and bull dozer to move dirt and surprisingly large pebbles with
Solpugids do look ferocious, and to other small insects and spiders
they are indeed! They literally tear their prey apart with those large
jaws that work like two side-by-side pliers, ripping and mashing their
prey apart, removing the juices, and then leaving a small wad of parts
behind as proof of their meal. Just as spiders are only capable of digesting
a liquid diet, Solpugids also are strictly liquid feeders--you would just
never guess it from their 7ppearance.
Surprisingly, not an awful lot is known about their biology. Females
may lay from 50-200 "BB" sized eggs in a burrow she has constructed. She
guards them until they hatch, which takes about two weeks or so. She cares
for the young, protecting them and capturing prey for them to feed on.
Solpugids do poorly in captivity and even experts have not figured out
how to rear them from eggs, which is probably why so little is known about
In captivity, Solpugids typically quit feeding soon after capture and
eventually die. The longest I have ever personally kept one alive was about
Although I have found them both indoors and outdoors, solpugids' natural
habitat is outside. I have most often seen them scurrying around on the
ground or on walls around porch lights at night to catch insects that come
in to the lights. They run very fast and they usually prefer to flee than
I have heard many stories about solpugids being found in bedrooms, on
beds, in bathtubs, in the kitchen, etc., but I have yet to hear of anyone
actually being bitten by one. You are probably most likely to encounter
them when you switch on a light at night or find them in the morning trapped
in a bath tub that they can't get out of.
Other than giving you a brief scare when finding one in your house,
they are rarely more than an occasional nuisance. The traditional "stomp
and scoop" is the recommended in-door control method for these individuals.
However, if for some reason they seem to be making more frequent appearances
in your home, a combination of habitat modification such as removing their
hiding places in your yard (stones, bricks, wood piles, "junk", etc.) in
addition to making sure your windows and doors seal tightly and any holes
in screens are repaired, and spraying ought to take care of them.
When treating with insecticides, consider spraying around the outside
foundation of your house and inside along the baseboards with insecticides
labeled for spiders and or scorpions. Before treating, always read the
label carefully. My office has a short information sheet on solpugids available
if you should desire one.
I also have specimens available for viewing (if lucky, I will have a
live one), so come on by and take a look! The Extension Office is at 100
East Division street, Fort Stockton.
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321
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Copyright 1999 by Pecos Enterprise