Naturalist's Notebook: Bonkers for Beetles!

Naturalist’s Notebook: Bonkers for Beetles!


Why do I like insects? There is huge variety. There is a huge range of colors. There is a huge range of body shapes. There is a huge range of sizes.

Why should YOU like insects? There is a huge number of insect species. There is a huge number of insects living right around you. Insects are easy to find, watch and study.

Although there is a huge range in size, insects don’t get as large as a house cat.

We humans would probably be in trouble if the insects I’m featuring in this Naturalist’s Notebook were the size of a cat! In fact, now that I think about it, we’d be in trouble if ANY insect grew to cat-size.

I love BEETLES, members of the insect order Coleoptera. A few facts about beetles:

1. There are more different kinds of beetle than any other type of insect, over nine hundred-fifty thousand species.

2. They are covered in a strong and thick suit of armor. Their hard exoskeleton always gives them a look like a sculpture created by an artist.

3. Their mouthparts, called mandibles, are designed for chewing and pinching. Looking at my photos and you can see some of them have very large, strong mandibles.

4. They have four wings, just like other insects, that are split right down the middle of their back. The top and bottom wings are very different. Their top wings, called wing covers or elytra, are part of their tough exoskeleton. These elytra help protect their flying wings, which are hidden and folded underneath.

5. They can be found in most habitats either crawling, flying, digging, tunneling in wood, or swimming. (That’s right, quite a few beetles live most of their lives in the water and are very good swimmers.)

Did I mention beetles can be found in almost any habitat, including YOUR yard?

I’m sharing some beetle photos taken in my yard over the past week. Several of these were attracted to a light at night. I will admit I have a bit of an advantage because my house is surrounded by forest, and several of these beetles feed on fallen trees and dead wood as larvae.

The one with really long antennae is a type of long-horned beetle. It is called the Oak Twig Pruner. It was over an inch long, and as you can see, the antennae were longer than the body.

I love the nickname of the large, long, shiny black beetle. It is often called the “Bess Bug.” I’m really not sure why. Its real name is the Horned Passalus Beetle, and it lives in dead, rotting wood both as a larvae and as an adult. It has a hidden talent. If it is scared or grabbed by a predator, it can make a squeaking, growly sound.

The long, slender medium brown beetle that is pointed at the end is a very large click beetle. I don’t know a common name, so I am going to give you the very long and complicated scientific name, Orthosthetus infuscatus. (Now you know why I rarely share scientific names!) If a click beetle is turned upside-down, it bends its head and thorax back and then quickly straightens out. This makes a click sound you can easily hear, and it catapults the beetle into the air. If it still lands upside-down, it keeps trying until it lands upright. This is an experiment you can do any time you find a click beetle.

The beetle on the yellow flower is a Soldier Beetle. It is very common. They can easily be found on many types of blooms feeding on nectar and pollen. As a larvae, many live under bark or underground and feed on other insects.

The large black beetle with very big mandibles is a type of stag beetle called the Antelope Beetle. Both adults and larvae feed on dead and decaying wood. The larvae are supposed to favor elm over other types of trees. Mess with him, and you may discover why they are sometimes called “pinch bugs!”

The beetle that is very dark, slender, and stretched-out and has muscular-looking front legs is a member of the weevil family called the Oak Timberworm Weevil. It was less than 1/4 inch long. Larvae are wood borers and adults live under bark or in holes in decaying wood.

Can you find any beetles? Get outside and look. If you find some maybe you may go bonkers for beetles too.

Mr. Bill





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