My dad and I were walking along the paved path at Millenium park in the roasting sun. The goldenrod along the path was crawling with these black beetles. Black beetles aren't much to write home about, I generally think, but I stopped to observe the unusual swarming behavior. Soon it became clear that these beetles were distinctively different from anything I knew well.
Naturally I let one crawl on me, to get a better angle for my photographs, and to give a sense of scale. When I submitted these pictures for identification, one expert suggested that I might want to refrain from handling them in future. This is a black blister beetle Epicauta pennsylvanica*, one of a group of beetles that can defend itself chemically--reportedly causing a blister on human skin. This species is known to gather on goldenrod and other plants in the aster family.
* Greek epi 'upon' + caut 'burn, burning' (refers to toxic secretions of these beetles)
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I'll file this under that thing that happens where once you make yourself aware of something, it pops up all the time. Here's my second banded net-winged beetle in a week.
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Beetles are defined by their hard, protective outer wings. Biology may as well be defined by exceptions to classifications. This banded net-winged beetle Caloptera reticulum* has soft outer wing covers that protect it in a different way. The high contrast orange and black colors let would-be predators know that this beetle doesn't taste good.
It is generally accepted that net-winged beetle larvae are predatory. This species apparently roams under dead bark to find its prey. At least one source, however, claims that "Despite anecdotal reports of carnivory, most, if not all [net-winged beetle larvae], feed on myxomycetes or metabolic products of fungi."
* "Netted beautiful wings"
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This tiny male wedge-shaped beetle Macrosiagon limbata* has his feathery antennae out into the air, hoping to catch the scent of a female.
She, like him, is probably on top of a flowering plant, grazing on pollen. Eventually she will lay eggs by the flowers. They will hatch into tiny grubs, who wait by the flowers for wasps that come to drink nectar. When they wasp lands, they climb on board, and ride her back to her nest, disembarking when she lays her own eggs. The beetle larva feeds within the body of the developing wasp larva. Nature is awesome.
* "Large jawed, bordered."
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July is the time for the reddish-brown stag beetles Lucanus capreolus to appear in Boston. They are so much larger than most of our other beetles that discovering one is something of an event. The beetles spend much of their lives as huge white grubs feeding within well-rotten wood. We encounter males like the one above, lumbering about looking to scuffle with other males, and mate with females.
We encounter females who drink tree sap and look for soft decaying stumps in which to lay their eggs.
They can be handled quite harmlessly--males fight one another with their big mandibles, but I've never suffered a pinch from them.
I always appreciate an insect who will pose nicely, and doesn't require macro lens for a decent photo. The male is from July 4th, while the female was found at our bug night event, on July 25th.
*From Lucania, an ancient district of southern Italy; Plinius the Elder used this name to describe the stag beetle. Names of European deer species -- Cervus elaphus (the red deer; elk in America), Capreolus capreolus (the roe deer), and Dama dama (the fallow deer) have all been used as specific epithets for various Lucanus species (L. dama has been synonymized with L. capreolus) (Fremlin 2010)
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Like its relative the Japanese beetle, the Oriental beetle is a hated pest of turfgrass. Not so much at our house since we treat our lawn with something between benign neglect and half-hearted maintenance. But people interested in a nice carpet of unbroken grass blades don't like the white C shaped larvae that grow into this beetle. They live in the soil, nibbling on the roots of the grass, killing sections of grass, leaving unsightly dead patches. The grown beetles don't make themselves any more welcome, feeding on roses and other ornamental flowers. Accidentally introduced from Asia, this invasive species is being battled with a natural enemy: a commercially available nematode that preys on the Oriental beetle grub.
I wrote that almost exactly 4 years ago, referring to the insect in this picture:
Looks pretty different but both are Exomala orientalis*. The species varies on a light to dark spectrum between the two extremes shown.
* Very outside, from the east
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Oh, hi! This friendly looking insect with fearsome hooklike feet is a grapevine beetle Pelidnota punctata.* It uses those feet to cling and clamber about on grapevines, eating the fruit and leaves in the cover of dark. I have never encountered one on our Concord grapevines Vitis labrusca.** Instead we find them bumbling about our porch light, rattling against the door at night. On one memorable occasion, we hosted a moth night, and caterpillar expert Sam Jaffe attended--he found a grapevine beetle and affixed it to his forehead. The little tarsal claws held on good and tight for a while, bringing painful slapstick to an absurd sight gag.
* Pelidnota from Greek pelidno, livid (dark, inflamed/leaden tinge of the skin) plus nota, the back. Punctata meaning spotted.
** Grapevine, wild grapevine
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This hairy beast is just a baby. If it makes it to fully grown--and why wouldn't it, it has few predators and is well defended with prickly setae--it will metamorphose into a short blackish beetle with a tawny belt across its back. Both as an adult beetle and as an active larva, the larder beetle Dermestes lardarius* feeds on durable organic matter. This individual was found with many close relatives feeding on the mummy of long-dead mouse. Unlike the relative (Anthrenus verbasci) I covered earlier, larder beetles are almost always encountered indoors, the environment which provides shelter and food to them around the globe.
Aw look at the fuzzy little belly!
* "Skin eater in the larder"
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I checked my "sap bucket beetle" tag to see what I'd written about these before. I like what I wrote back then, so I'm going to just directly quote myself when talking about Ellychnia corrusca*:
"These are beetles descended from bioluminescent ancestors, but have given up the key characteristic of their family. They fly by day so have no reason to light up at night. Mates are attracted to one another in the more usual insect way, by scent.
I've always had an affection for these soft-shelled, slow-flying beetles. At least once a year I'll grab one out of the air as it lazily flies by. It will crawl about on my hand for minute, trying to figure out what happened, and I'll look at the distinctive red markings on its underside and pronotum. There are about a dozen species of day-flying fireflies in North America, but this one is the largest, and I suspect the most common."
* "Glittering lampwick." Did you not notice it NOT bioluminescing Mr. Linnaeus?
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This is another time where I wasn't sure what I was looking at until I examined the photo later. Another little beetle only 3 mm long or so, and delightfully colorful. What a disappointment to realize it's not only non-native, but moonlights as a household pest.
Anthrenus verbasci* is also known as the varied carpet beetle (or more correctly, if awkwardly "variegated carpet beetle). Carpet beetles are a group of beetles that specialize on the dry durable tissues of the long dead. A wool carpet is just a big mat of mammal fur, a priceless taxidermy is a tempting balloon of edible skin, a beautiful set of mounted butterflies is a carpet beetle buffet. This species has a taste for plant tissues as well, becoming a pest in flour mills and food storage facilities.
* This name translates to "mullein wasp."
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