(The post I planned to do today is taking longer than I expected, so it won’t get posted until next Monday. In the meantime, I give you the following field stories!)
I believe that all entomologists have some sort of horror story from time spent in the field. I’ve already shared my centipede story and my giant water bug attack story, but I have oh so many more! Today I’m going to share a few scary stories from my deep treasure trove of memories.
I live in Southern Arizona. If you know anything about this area, you know that it’s becoming increasingly dangerous to wander around in the desert. I don’t worry about the illegals crossing the desert. Give them some water and they will be so grateful they’ll name children after you! But the drug dealers… That’s an entirely different matter. One of my field sites is in a prime drug running area. The area is absolutely crawling with Border Patrol agents, but it doesn’t make much of a difference. Every time I go out to that field site, I hope I don’t see anyone. I never go alone. I carry a gun with me. It’s scary being out there at the best of times, but one time there was this ominous black truck parked along the little dirt road you take to get to the pond. A really nice truck. The kind of truck you wouldn’t ever see on a tiny little overgrown ranch road for legitimate reasons. There was a guy sitting in it. My companion and I drove past and collected water bug eggs anyway (I would have turned around if it were up to me, but I wasn’t driving), and we were totally on edge the entire time. We stopped and listened carefully every time we heard a car (extra stressful considering there is a busy dirt road obscured by a small hill just on the other side of the pond!) and prepared to shoot our way out if necessary. It was incredibly stressful. It’s hard to convey the fear I felt! The experience made me so much more cautious than I’d ever been in the past though, so I suppose some good came out of it.
I don’t see many snakes for someone who spends time outdoors in Arizona. I’ve only seen a total of 9 snakes over the 18 years I’ve lived in Tucson! The most exciting snake was one I was lucky to see. I was out sampling a creek in the Rincon Mountains for a project I was doing for one of my jobs. At one of the sites, there were steep banks on either side of the creek and limited places where it was easy to climb out. My coworkers and I were just about done sampling and realized we needed to ask our boss a question, so I headed toward the car to get my cell. I walked up the bank the same way I always did, using this perfect little foothold in the bank to take the last step up to level ground. I was I just about to slam my foot down on the foothold for that last step when I happened to look down and see this:
My foot was 3 or 4 inches from the snake when I saw it, so it was a huge challenge to change my momentum sufficiently that I didn’t come crashing down on top of it with my sandaled foot! I jerked my entire body backwards as hard as I could and essentially launched myself back down the bank toward the creek. I landed on my knees about 10 feet away and just sat there shaking for a few minutes. I had nasty bruises. I was in pain. But I didn’t get bitten! And then I used a different foothold, ran to the car, got the phone and a camera, and snapped some photos of the rattler. What can I say? I’m a biologist. That’s what we do. :)
Dead Bodies in the Lake
Most of you probably know that I worked at an urban lake in Tucson once a week for most of three years. The lake is in a crappy neighborhood, so we saw lots of crazy things. Before we started working there, my coworker and I were told that someone once found a dead body in the lake. We couldn’t stop thinking about it. Every time we got the anchor stuck on something, we’d worry just a little that it might be a dead body. Then one week they found a dead body in the lake 6 hours after we finished sampling. The presence of an actual dead body in the lake made pulling one up with the anchor seem so much more possible! What if we had been there? What if we had found it? Was it in the lake while we were sampling? The idea disturbed our other coworker so badly that the next time he got the anchor stuck on something, he made me promise that we would quit sampling immediately if it was a dead body. I have never seen anyone look so relieved to pull up a lawn chair covered in algae and mud! Poor guy. He probably still worries about finding a body in the lake…
At one point, my advisor decided that we should collect some special water scorpions that we have in Arizona in the genus Curicta. We headed to Ramsey Canyon, a lovely little canyon run by the Nature Conservancy, to try to find some:
We talked to the people in the visitor’s center when we arrived and they warned us that there had been a bear in the area that day, hanging out around the ponds we were intending to collect. We promised we’d keep an eye out for it and headed into the canyon with a volunteer as our guide. As we walked up the hill, a couple came down saying, “There’s a bear! There’s a bear!” They pointed up the hill and practically ran toward the visitor’s center. A minute later, a family told us that they’d just seen a bear and pointed up the hill as they rushed past us on their way out of the canyon. When we get to the pond and prepared to collect, we fully expected the bear to wander in at any moment. Guess who had to take her eyes off the surroundings and get into the pond to collect? Me! I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared collecting in my life! I kept looking up to make sure the bear wasn’t coming, which made collecting very difficult. And then I didn’t catch any of the bugs we wanted! Nor did I ever see the bear! Total bust. The canyon was gorgeous though, and the threat of the bear made it so much more zesty. As a result, I now remember that adventure rather fondly!
Ah, the joys of bug collecting in Arizona! I’m sure some of you have some great stories like these. I’d love to hear them if you want to share them in the comments!
I’m giving away another aquatic insect mug! If you haven’t done so already, you can enter here.
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2 thoughts on “Field Stories: Scary Situations”
When I was working as a field assistant in the Australian Outback I once got caught outside in a really massive, terrifying wind/hail storm – I had almost made it back to the vehicle when the storm hit but when it did the wind was so strong that I had to get down on the ground to avoid being blown down the hillside. Thankfully the PhD student I was working for was a big, strong guy and was able to come get me and practically carry me to the car. I had red welts all over my arms and shoulders for weeks from being pummeled by the hail and gravel flying around in the wind.
And then later we got the worst dust storm Australia had had in seventy-something years… I was INDOORS during that, thankfully, but it was pretty crazy. The dust in the air was so thick that it was literally dark as night outside at 4PM.
That sounds intense! I had a pet duck and chickens from junior high through college and I’d have to run out to rescue them from the sumer Colorado hail storms about once a week. We frequently got quarter size hail, but once they reached grapefruit size! Always scary because you didn’t know whether you might be beaned by a giant piece of ice. I was always close to the house though, so I never had to stay out in it. Yikes! That would be terrible!