So there I was,in the heart of the Mojave Desert, minding my own business searching for rare plants. When I heard a sound. At first I tried to convince myself it was just the hum of power lines, but no. It wasn’t a hum–it was more of a click, and it seemed to be emanating from the nearest creosote bush (Larrea tridentata). Actually, now that I was listening for it, I realized that most of the creosote bushes around me clicking away as well. A number of explanations floated through my mind: sentient trees, maybe I’d finally found my way into Narnia, bowtruckles, dehydration?, maybe my field partner was punking me, or it could be an insect.
Occcam’s Razor states that the simplest explanation is the most likely, so while I was really hoping for Narnia, I decided to go with the idea of an insect. To test my theory, I picked up a rock and threw it at the bush. I expected a grasshopper or something to hop away and that would be that. However, rather than silencing the creosote or scaring away an insect, my actions caused a renewed volley of even louder clicks. Great, just great–I made it angry.
Fascinated, I grabbed another rock. A little further experimentation confirmed that the initial result held true for the bushes in the immediate surrounding area. At that point, my field partner Kate found me accosting the local flora and demanded an explanation. Without any further details to go on, we did what any self-respecting millennial would do–we Googled it.
According to Google, the most likely sources of the mysterious clicking were Desert Clicker grasshoppers (Ligurotettix coquilletti). Apparently, a male Clicker will likely spend most of its adult life on a single creosote bush. They are extremely territorial for both feeding and mating purposes–the word on the web is that shrubs are more desirable if they have a lower concentration of the protective phenolic compound nordihydroguaiaretic acid. (I guess the leaves taste better.) That explains why, rather than scaring the grasshopper away, a rock to the bush incited verbal reckoning.
I guess I learned my lesson!
Needles, CA Field Office
Bureau of Land Management