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Entomology: about Tucson

See also: the UA Tucson website

The University of Arizona is located in Tucson, the second largest city in Arizona with a population of about 600,000. The city of Tucson is located in the southeastern part of Arizona at an elevation of 2,390 feet. It is located in a desert valley surrounded by picturesque mountain ranges. To the north are the craggy Santa Catalina; to the east, the Tanque Verde and Rincon, part of which are in Saguaro National Monument; to the west are the smaller Tucson mountains, and to the south, the lofty Santa Ritas and the Baboquivari. The Tucson valley is crossed by two rivers, the Santa Cruz and the Rillito, which normally fluctuate between a trickle in winter and bone dry sand in summer although on occasion these rivers may swell with raging flood waters.

Tucson lies in the zone receiving more sunshine than any other part of the U.S. Annual precipitation averages 11.14 inches, and half the rainfall is received in summer monsoon thunderstorms in July and August. January is the coldest month, with an average low temperature of 38.2oF. and an average high of 63.5oF. July is the hottest month, with an average low temperature of 74.5oF. and an average high of 100oF. Although summers are hot, it is far more comfortable than the midday temperature might suggest. As a result of clear skies and low humidity, the temperature falls rapidly after sunset such that the evenings are pleasant with cooling breezes and thunder showers in late summer. All of the campus buildings are air conditioned.

Tucson offers a wide range of cultural and recreational facilities. Tucson has a national reputation for fostering its art community. For visual arts, excellent regional and international collections are housed at the Tucson Museum of Art. The University of Arizona is the home for the nationally famous Center for Creative Photography. Tucson is also host to the Arizona Theater Company, an excellent opera company, and a symphony orchestra. A Downtown Arts District is designated for future development. Tucson's Spanish, Mexican, Native American and pioneer influences have endured. American Indian and Hispanic culture, food, and architecture add charm and cultural diversity to this unique southwestern city.

The environment is ideal for a wide variety of outdoor activities including hiking, climbing, fishing and even downhill skiing on the summit of Mt. Lemmon, only 30 miles from the University. The fine weather also makes possible year-round participation in golf, tennis and swimming. Working at the University of Arizona represents a unique experience. Apart from the outstanding research opportunities, it is also possible to maintain an active cultural and recreational balance because of the accessibility of the surrounding environment.

Tucson is unusual in the general level of interest in insects. Although this partly reflects the conspicuous nature of insect life it is also a function of the variety of institutions where insects are a feature. Apart from the University facilities which are described below, there is the USDA Carl Hayden Bee Laboratory. This is situated just three miles north of campus and includes a very active group of researchers who carry out a variety of research projects including honey bee population modelling, social and non-social bee behavior and pollen-foraging strategies. Three scientists from USDA have adjunct professor status in the University of Arizona Department of Entomology and several collaborative projects are in progress. Students at the University sometimes have assistant-ships at the USDA facility.

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, just 10 miles west of Tucson, is a nationally renowned living museum of plants and animals and it includes living arthropod displays, interested and helpful staff, and some insect-related research. A small but active focus of insects in Tucson is the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Inc. (SASI) which has a discovery center close to Tucson with lab facilities, living cultures, arthropod oriented natural history displays and nature trails. Work is in progress to coordinate the work of SASI and the university in using insects in youth education as well as encouraging research projects in schools.

The Biological Environment of Southern Arizona

Tucson is located close to some of the most spectacular national parks and scenery in the United States. These include the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest National Park. At a greater distance the national parks in California, Utah and New Mexico such as Yosemite, Zion and Carlsbad Caverns can be readily reached. In addition to the national parks, Arizona has 12 national monuments which reflect the rich geographic and cultural heritage of this state. Close to Tucson, the Saguaro and Organpipe Cactus National Monuments preserve dramatic stands of large cacti that are unique to this region of the country and are often taken as symbols of the desert southwest. The Navajo and Canyon de Chelly National Monuments honor the Native American culture of this region and are located in perhaps their most spectacular settings.

The national parks and monuments in Arizona are proof of the unique character of this part of the United States. For most students the presence of these attractions provides a complementary outlet to their academic endeavors leading to a stimulating and rewarding graduate experience.

Arizona's southern and western deserts, warm low-elevation basins divided by mountains, range from the southeast corner to the far northwestern edge of the state. Geologically they are part of the Basin and Range Province of the Southwest and are characterized as Sonora Desert. In its current form the Sonora Desert has probably only existed for about 10,000 years but it is diverse in both geography and in numbers of plant and animal species.

The diversity of plants and animals is partly made possible by the bi-seasonal pattern of rainfall: low intensity winter rain and heavy summer storms. The Sonora desert also lacks the very cold winters of more northern deserts.

In the western region the Colorado river basin influences the desert flora while to the east, with the higher elevation and colder winters, grasslands are more common. At lower elevations, the predominant natural vegetation is creosote bush, cholla and prickly pear cactus, and palo verde trees. Dense stands of the saguaro cactus trees occur sporadically throughout the Sonora Desert, particularly in the Saguaro National Monument on the east and west sides of Tucson. The desert abounds in fascinating vertebrate and arthropod fauna and is truly an insect collector's paradise with a high proportion of large and showy species.

Four ranges in southern Arizona have peaks over 9,000 ft and climate and biology vary dramatically with aspect and elevation. Within a short drive of the campus, you can find an amazing variety of habitats ranging from the hot, flat desert to cold mountain streams and pine forests. Near Tucson are several agricultural communities, with cattle and crops including cotton, pecans, grapes, lettuce, pistachios and vegetables. Insect life may be studied in the many different zones as well as the desert, while canyons also present opportunities for examining aquatic insects.

Important crops in Arizona include cotton and vegetables while citrus, apples, grapes and a wide variety of minor crops are of increasing importance. All have insect pest problems worthy of study.

Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona
Forbes 410, PO Box 210036, Tucson, AZ 85721-0036
Phone: (520) 621-1151 • Fax: (520) 621-1150 • E-mail:

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College of Agriculture & Life Sciences

Arizona Cooperative Extension