Unexpected Encounters….

golf course

Working as a horticulturist on golf courses may not sound like the most exciting job.  But, I loved spending time outdoors, managing the landscape areas with their trees and plants.

It was wonderful being right on the edge of the desert and witnessing its beauty up close.

golf course

Of course, there were some thorny encounters with prickly cactus, (which does hurt by the way).  I also faced some encounters with wildlife.

I used to be scared of bugs as a child.  In fact, I would get my younger brother to come into my room to kill any little spiders that I would sometimes see.

Fast forward 20 years later, I was working as a horticulturist, which  almost guaranteed that I would have to deal with bugs.

I got used to most types of bugs….even scorpions.  However, there was and is one bug that is still quite scary to me….

Encounters with wildlife

Encounters with wildlife

This is a Palo Verde beetle.  And believe me, they are huge….about 7 – 8 inches long.

Their larvae feed upon the roots of trees, especially Palo Verdes.

As much as I like to think that I am now brave when it comes to bugs, I still can’t quite surpress a shiver when I see a Palo Verde beetle.  Thankfully, the last one I saw was over 12 years ago.

However, as the only female working in a department with 38 men, I was the victim of some of the crew trying to tease from time to time with bugs and snakes.

One incident involved my landscape crew.  I was driving along the golf course, to see how they were progressing in removing an old, rotten tree.  As I drove nearer, one of the guys said,

“Noellia, come here.”

(That was what they called me)

Well, he had a grin on his face as did the men standing behind him.  So, I was immediately on my guard.  As I walked toward him, he held out his hand to show me a huge Palo Verde grub (larvae).  It was white, fat and at least 4 inches long.

Well, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of letting him know that I was “scared” of it as he expected, so I tried to “fake” bravery.  I smiled and asked him to put it in my gloved hand.

Then I told him what it was and explained what they did to tree roots.  Of course, this was all part of my trying not to let them know that I was scared of this huge, white, grub that was wriggling in the middle of my gloved palm.

I could tell that my crew were disappointed that I did not react differently, but I like to think that maybe I earned some additional respect.

Of course, as I drove away, I did kind of shiver a bit afterward in reaction.


A frequent encounter that often occurred was with snakes.

Now, I do NOT like snakes and it’s my brother’s fault.

You see, he had a California King snake when he was a young boy.  Well, this snake would often escape his enclosure and get lost around our house.

So, I would walk around scared that the snake was lurking around the next corner.  Of course, we always found him, but eventually we had to get rid of him since my brother could not keep him in his cage.

Well, living in the desert means that you will see snakes.  And on a golf course, many types of animals are attracted to the water and snakes are attracted to many of those animals.  So, I would see many snakes, usually in the grass.

As long as I saw them first, I was okay.

Occasionally though, some snakes would make their way into the maintenance area where we worked.  The crew liked to play with the non-venomous snakes, such as the Sonoran Gopher Snake…

Encounters with wildlife

Encounters with wildlife. Photo Courtesy of Dawson

Of course, if they had a snake and saw me nearby, I would hear them call out….

“Noellia, come here…..”

And so, I would suck up my courage, try acting brave, smile and touch the snake before backing off.


My last encounter occurred without any other people around and no crew members trying to tease me with ‘scary’ animals.

I was working along a large landscaped area along a roadway and I was manually turning some irrigation valves.

I was always careful opening up a valve box because you never knew what could be lurking inside.  Normally, crickets, a roach or two, lizard and sometimes scorpions.

As a result, I used a screwdriver to pull off the valve box lid and I always had gloves on.

Well, this particular day, I needed to turn on the water for some very thirsty plants, so I knelt down beside the valve box, pulled up the lid and saw my valve


Encounters with wildlife

Encounters with wildlife, Courtesy Wikipedia

There he was, Mr. Tarantula, just sitting a few inches away from my valve.  I am certain he was enjoying the dark, quiet space.

So, I faced a dilemma.  Do I let the thirsty plants suffer without water all weekend long?

Do I ask one of my crew to come out and turn the valve on for me?

Well, I decided to handle the situation myself by “talking” to the tarantula.

I said, “I’m going to put my hand in very carefully and turn on this valve.  I’m not going to hurt you, so please don’t jump at me.”

Well guess what?  He must have understood what I was saying because I put my gloved hand in, turned on the valve and the tarantula never moved.

I must admit that I was so proud of myself for doing that, but there was no one around to witness my bravery 😉  


Well, those are my favorite stories of unexpected encounters with wildlife.

How about you?

Have you ever had an unexpected encounter with bugs, snakes, etc?

How did you handle it?  

Horticulturists Don’t Wear Nailpolish….Do They??

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
9 replies
  1. Rohrerbot
    Rohrerbot says:

    I'm the same way about certain kinds of bugs. The Palo Verde beetle is one of them. There's nothing worse than driving with your car windows down when one of those giant critters fly into your car!!!! My experience was with a packrat. It got into my tropical garden and started eating my plants….and then went into my outdoor shed and LIVED!! When it came time for me to clean it out, I discovered where the little bugger was hiding. It grossed me out….and all my stuff was damaged beyond repair teaching me the lesson that anything outdoors goes into plastic bins!

  2. Becc
    Becc says:

    Youre excused for being scared of that monster bug, anyone would be!
    I totally relate to your snake stories, we get heaps of them over here & mostly poisonous in the wheatbelt.

  3. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    Thank goodness those monster beetles don't live in Texas! Though we do have tarantulas, scorpions & snakes – all part of the garden experience!

  4. Esther Montgomery
    Esther Montgomery says:

    I think being able to fake bravery is a definition of being brave. You don't have to be brave unless you are frightened.

    I would be frightened of the beetle, would like the snakes, be very wary of a tarantula and absolutely terrified of the larva.

    Logic doesn't really come into it!


  5. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    I'm not sure about the Palo Verde beetles. We don't have any beetles that large here, but I have occasionally been knocked in the head by a beetle at night, and it's always a little creepy! That said though, your gopher snakes are gorgeous. We have a lot of snakes here, and often find them lurking under logs, or sunning themselves in the driveway. Your gopher snakes are much more colorful than ours though. We have some small brown tarantulas here too, which surprised me when we moved here, as I always thought they liked a slightly warmer environment. Always intriguing to spot one though!

  6. Pege
    Pege says:

    Yes, Noelle, I would say you are very brave to handle a 4" grub! Yuck! I never saw so many strange bugs and critters until I moved to the desert. Had a kangaroo rat that the cat brought in and let loose in the sons' bedroom when they were small. I'm sure he thought he found the perfect rat's nest. Hubby had quite an adventure getting him. I also learned to be a little tougher with two sons and a husband that loved to tease. I earned the boys respect too by touching snakes that were "friendly" at the Living Desert and so they gave me some slack . My "tough" husband is creeped out by what we call "vinagaroon spiders" He thinks they were created by nuclear leak 🙂

  7. Renee Felice
    Renee Felice says:

    Oh gosh, I am a total scaredy cat about creepy-crawlies as well!

    The ones that give me the biggest fright are spiders — even though they are so good for the garden — I just can't help letting out an ear-piercing shriek if one sneaks up on me. Just today, I picked up a trash can with bare hands, almost touching a huge black widow … well, I jumped about 10 feet in the air and did a shaky-shivery dance while hollering and moaning.
    My husband just laughed and laughed.

    You are very brave. I'm quite far from getting over my arachnophobia.

  8. Mac_fromAustralia
    Mac_fromAustralia says:

    I was going to say that beetle doesn't look so bad… until I saw what you said about the size!
    I've had a few spider encounters in the garden, usually solved at the end of a long shovel, followed by a "shaky-shivery dance while hollering and moaning" as Renee Felice described it.
    I've also seen a couple of snakes, and an echidna, and we used to get kangaroos eating our front lawn when we had a front lawn before the drought.

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