The little red spiders
and the little gray horned toad
Together they make the rain to fall;
They make the rain to fall.
– O’odham song from the saguaro feast ceremony for rain
From Singing for Power, by Ruth Underhill
This morning I saw something I’d never seen before, except from translations of traditional Tohono-O’odham rain poetry, which I like to read this time of year. This must be the red spider, I thought, as I bent down to watch these little velvet bugs crawling over the rocks beneath a saguaro.
This is the proverbial creature that spends most of its life under a rock.
It’s fuzzy. You could design a Dinothrombium plush toy.
I looked it up at the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Web site (SASI) and learned that it had a great-sounding scientific name and was actually a mite, relative of the spider. they live underground most of the year but come out during the monsoons to prey on swarming winged termites during their nuptial flights. I had even seen one of these termites earlier in the day–they typically swarm after a big rain storm from their tunnels underground to mate and found new colonies. But I had not given much thought to it until I saw the mites and connected the two.
Indeed, we had a major monsoon yesterday evening. Our power in Tucson was out for several hours. It all fit together.
Just for the record: I put the red mite back on the ground as close to I found it as I could remember.