Sunday, February 5, 2017

HumBug: An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

Posted By on Sun, Feb 5, 2017 at 6:00 PM

click to enlarge Striped willow beetle, about 1/4 inch long. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Striped willow beetle, about 1/4 inch long.

The great geneticist and evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane once said, “The creator, if he exists, has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles.” It is believed there are more species of beetles than any other order of animals on the planet. They fill so many niches in the environment it is no surprise to happen across one in an unexpected place.
click to enlarge Predacious diving beetle about 3/4 inch long. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Predacious diving beetle about 3/4 inch long.

I recently stopped to chat with a friend near a puddle; it was an inch or so deep and as large as the shadow under a pickup truck. I was distracted from our conversation by strange ripples on the water's surface. When I looked I found a predacious diving beetle. Adapted to an aquatic life, they have paddle-shaped hind legs and often hang head-down with just the tip of their abdomens touching the surface to replenish the air supply they keep trapped under their wings. (And we thought we invented scuba diving.)

These beetles are good fliers, allowing them to escape a drying pool but having only a bug's brain, they often land on shiny, dark cars.
click to enlarge A western tiger beetle standing tall. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A western tiger beetle standing tall.
Beetles fill so many different roles in nature it is impossible to catalog them all and entire books are devoted to this one order. Two excellent volumes from my collection of entomological books devoted to just this one order are Field Guide to the Beetles of California and Peterson Field Guide to the Beetles.
click to enlarge Like Cruella DeVille: "You come to realize you've seen her kind of eyes watchin' you from underneath a rock!"  A pretty common ground beetle hereabouts. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Like Cruella DeVille: "You come to realize you've seen her kind of eyes watchin' you from underneath a rock!" A pretty common ground beetle hereabouts.


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