Friday, August 1, 2008

Interesting Beetles

I think insects are cool--as long as they're not in my house or biting me! Recently I saw a couple interesting looking ones. Before you go "Blah, insects," keep in mind that insects make up something like 95% of the species on this earth. And yet we don't know much about them. Sure, grizzly bears, whales, and elephants might be more charismatic, but let's face it, I'm not in a good place to take photos of them. So we're stuck with insects today, in particular two beetles.

I was on a picnic when this black beetle with the long antennae landed on one of my nieces. I wanted to get a closer look, so I transferred it to my leg. After a little research, it turns out that it's in the Family Cerambycidae, Longhorn beetles. This is a huge family, with over 20,000 identified species. Goodness gracious, did I have any hope of identifying it? Fortunately, those long antennae help distinguish it, along with the black body and white markings.

According to one posting I found on the internet, that little white v-marking, the scuttelum, between the head and thorax is a distinguishing mark for the white-spotted sawyer, Monochamus scutellatus

The white-spotted sawyer didn't stay still for long, but jumped onto my plate. It's preferred food isn't fruit salad, but rather conifers. Adults will eat needles and small twigs, while the larvae bore into the wood and create galleries under the bark. If one larvae gets too close to another, it will get eaten--they are cannibals! (See insects can be pretty interesting!)

Okay, onto our second insect. While I was hanging up laundry I heard a strange buzzing and saw this insect on some fabric on the ground. It was nearly two inches long and appeared to be stuck. Henry took great interest in it and I had to keep him from eating it. 

It was only after I had moved it to the grass that I realized it was a beetle. I tend to forget that beetles have wings. This particular beetle with its distinct markings made it relatively easy to identify as a member of the Family Scarabaeidae, or a Scarab beetle. This is another huge family, with about 30,000 members. Some scarab beetles were considered sacred in ancient Egypt, while the Japanese beetle is considered a pest in the United States. 

This particular scarab beetle appears to be a ten-lined June beetle, Polyphylla decemlineata. The straight reddish brown antennae indicate that it's a female, while the males have curved or fanlike antennae.

This species feeds on the roots of various plants as larvae and on pine needles and leaves as adults. Many species of scarab beetles are great recyclers, feeding on dung (scat), and thus are known as dung beetles.

Okay, that ends today's lesson on beetles. I bet you feel smarter! I'll be on the lookout for more interesting material to help enrich your life. Any requests?


Anonymous said...

I recently found a very beautiful beetle. It had a coppery, green color. Very pretty. Turned out it was a Japanese beetle, which quickly devoured several plants.


Sarah said...

A longhorn beetle paid us a visit at Mary's house while we were there. It was quite impressive in size!

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