Sunday, May 5, 2019

HumBug: Beetles in the Spring

Posted By on Sun, May 5, 2019 at 12:12 PM

click to enlarge Omus, probably californicus. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Omus, probably californicus.

While beetles were my first love when I started studying insects and are believed to have the greatest number of species of any of the insect orders, I find I seldom write about them. There are plenty to write about. The following are just a few I've seen in the last week.

Two years ago I wrote about the night stalking tiger beetle (Omus californicus), a nocturnal terror with a Darth Vader demeanor. That was the first one I'd ever seen, and I was impressed by its ferocious face. This year I've seen several both at night and in the daytime. Like their cousins within the family cincidela, they possess huge mandibles to subdue prey and with which the males hold onto their mates.

click to enlarge Western tiger beetle (Cicindela oregonia). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Western tiger beetle (Cicindela oregonia).

Unlike genus Omus, which are completely black, the locally common western tiger beetle (Cicindela oregona) comes in various hues from a conservative faun gray to iridescent blue green. On close inspection even the somber hued ones have metallic undertones. You can find these on the sandy spaces along our local river bars. At about half an inch long, they run rapidly ahead of you and take wing, flying a short distance to get out of your way.

click to enlarge Bembidion zephyrum looks like a tiny tiger. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Bembidion zephyrum looks like a tiny tiger.

Watching some tiger beetles, I noted a much smaller beetle which displayed very similar behaviors. It was a shiny bronze. I took several photos of it hoping to identify it later. Almost as soon as I posted the photo online in an Insect Identification page, I got a reply that it wasn't tiger beetle, but a related member of the ground beetle family Carabidae (Bembidion zephyrum).

click to enlarge Click beetle. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Click beetle.
Lately I've been seeing a lot of click beetles flying and perching near the tips of blades of grass and other tall places waiving their antennae in the breeze. Many beetles have a hard time turning over if they land on their back. Like a turtle they will flail the air with their legs for as long as it takes. When this happens they are extremely vulnerable as they cannot run or fly away. The click beetles (family Elateridae) have evolved a solution unlike any other. If you take one and gently place it on its back it may flail briefly then arch its back and with a sudden audible snap propel itself a several inches in the air, often flipping end over end to land on its feet. If it lands on its back again, it will repeat the process until it can walk away.

click to enlarge Listrus on a dandelion. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Listrus on a dandelion.

Another less conspicuous variety of beetle are the tiny soft winged flower beetles of the genus Listrus that frequent flowers and, although tiny, may be important pollinators for some species of flowering plants.
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