Ah, Mexican jumping beans. And we're not talking about what happens when you overeat at Taco Bell. This variety tends to take the form of Southwest souvenirs, the kind that come in a teeny tiny clear plastic box. Place them on a table and they could be any sort of brown bean or nut. But as soon as you get these little suckers in the palm of your hand, they come to life.
Technically, Mexican jumping beans aren't beans at all but rather a seed pod from the desert shrub Sebastiana pavoniana
, native to Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico. And contrary to popular depiction — as well as the common name — the "beans" don't jump so much as they roll. Besides being a freaky novelty gift, Mexican jumping beans serve as homes to the larvae of the Jumping Bean moth, or Laspeyresia saltitans
. After hatching from their eggs, the tiny worms will burrow themselves into the "beans" and for the next few months, as the larvae mature into moths, eat the seed inside that grows inside the pod. The "jumping" action we see is actually a self-defense mechanism of the larvae as it tries to keep itself out of heat, which can cause the seed to dry out and kill the worm inside. Even body heat radiating from the palm of the hand can set start the bug wiggling. If we were trapped in a tiny heated box, we'd probably start squirming too. Mexican Import in Scottsdale is our favorite spot in town to stock up on all kinds of south-of-the-border tchotchkes — including, of course, Mexican jumping beans. What are you waiting for? We know you want to run out and buy some right now. Have fun!