Flagstaff, AZ – Crawling, digging, or buzzing across the Colorado Plateau are hundreds of thousands of different kinds of bugs--spiders, scorpions, ants and other insects with jointed exoskeletons. Most of these arthropods haven't even been identified, and that has NAU ecologist Neil Cobb on a mission.
This is inquiring minds, insights from the campus of Northern Arizona University.
The Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity is not something every family would want to visit. Located in NAU's Department of Biological Sciences, this unusual collection first stings you with a powerful odor. Students will tell you that's the smell of thousands of dead bugs and, you get used to it.
There are drawers of beetles, some as long as your hand, with antennas that look like they could hurt you. There are furry tarantulas in the most beautiful coffee colors and scorpions that appear to be transparent.
But this assortment of things that scratch around in the high desert doesn't even scratch the surface of all the species that exist in the Four Corners Region.
Neil Cobb is curator of the arthropod museum and director of the Merriam Powell Center for Environmental Research. He says arthropods make up some 60 to 70 percent of life on the Colorado Plateau. He's concerned about how much we don't know, particularly with climate change in the forecast.
(((COBB SOT)))Track 7 in :54 (:04) "You can't manage for something if you don't know it exists."+ Track 7 in :38 (:07) "Everything we know about biodiversity indicates that we should preserve biodiversity for ecosystem sustainability."
What if some arthropods can't adapt to a warming climate? Might we lose a species that pollinates or decomposes plants. . .or one that preys on a destructive bug?
Cobb hopes to answer these questions as he seeks out some of nature's hairiest and scariest.
Inquiring Minds is a production of KNAU, Arizona Public Radio. I'm Bonnie Stevens.