Insects and Arachnids
Air-breathing invertebrates are unavoidable in any tropical locale. Some are annoying (gnats and no-see-ums), some are dangerous (black widows, bird spiders, and scorpions), and others can cause pain when they bite (red ants); but many are beautiful (butterflies and moths), and all are fascinating.
Butterflies and Moths
The Yucatán has an incredible abundance of beautiful moths and butterflies, some 40,000 species in all. Hikers might see the magnificent blue morpho, orange-barred sulphur, copperhead, cloudless sulphur, malachite, admiral, calico, ruddy dagger-wing, tropical buckeye, and emperor.
The famous monarch is also a visitor during its annual migration from Florida. It usually makes a stopover on Quintana Roo’s east coast on its way south to the Central American mountains where it spends the winter.
The huge black witch moth—males can have a wingspan of 17.8 centimeters (seven inches) and are sometimes mistaken for bats—is called mariposa de la muerte (Spanish for butterfly of death) or ma ha na (Yucatec Maya for enter the home), stemming from a common belief that if the moth enters the home of a sick person, that person will soon die.
Spiders and Scorpions
The Yucatán has some scary-looking spiders and scorpions (arañas and alacranes), but none is particularly dangerous. The Yucatán Rust Rump Tarantula is surely the most striking, a hairy medium-size tarantula with long legs and a distinctive orange or rust-colored rear.
Like most tarantulas, they are nocturnal and fairly timid, with females spending much of their time in burrows in the ground, and males roaming around incessantly looking for them. Its bite is harmless, but that doesn’t mean you should handle one: When threatened, tarantulas can shake off a cloud of tiny hairs, which are highly irritating if inhaled.
The Yucatán’s long black scorpions—up to 10 centimeters (4 inches!)—have a painful sting that can cause swelling, and for some people shortness of breath, but is not deadly. Like tarantulas, scorpions avoid human contact and are therefore rare to see; that said, it’s always a good idea to shake out shoes and beach towels before using them, just in case.
The Yucatán’s most famous bee—of numerous species found here—is the aptly named Yucatán Bee, also known as the Maya Bee. The small stingless insect produces a particularly sweet honey that was prized by the ancient Maya and was one of the most widely traded commodities in the Maya world. (Some researchers say the Descending God figure at Tulum and other archaeological sites is the god of bees.)
The ancient Maya were expert beekeepers, a tradition that lives on today, albeit much reduced thanks in part to the availability of cheap standard honey. Yucatán honey (harvested using more modern methods) is still sold in Mexico and abroad, mostly online and in organic and specialty stores.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition