I’ve seen a lot of “bugs” in my 64 years, due in part to being outdoors a lot. I was finally surprised today when I caught a new black/grey beetle trying to access my house. No just any beetle, but a nice healthy 1 3/4 inch specimen that appeared to be looking back at me through dark “eyes” on the top of his head.
Being extremely curious about this “new to me” species, I immediately trapped it under a glass for further inspection. I can’t kill it, of course. I’ll soon set it free but not until I’ve watched it and determined just what it is.
Alaus Oculatus: the Eyed Click Beetle.
Nearly two inches long and found across the eastern U.S. as far west as Texas, this formally attired gray and black and white insect is one of the largest members of the Click Beetle Family (Elateridae).
The huge eyespots make it one of the most easily identified. These are “false eyes,” of course–likely an adaptation to scare off potential predators. The true eyes of the Eyed Click Beetle are much smaller and located at the bases of its heavily saw-toothed antennae.
Click Beetles are one of some 800 species in North America. There appearance– with those dark “eyes” — is rather dramatic.
All Click Beetles have a startling behavior that demonstrates how they got their primary name–as well as the alternate epithets of “snapping beetle,” “skipjack,” and “spring beetle.” When placed on its back–or when grabbed by its predators –a Click Beetle bends its head and prothorax backward and then straightens out suddenly with a snapping motion resulting in an audible click and launches the beetle several inches into the air.
Click Beetles will sometimes take flight during this midair maneuver, but more often it simply falls back to earth. If it lands on its back the beetle may “click” again, or it may tightly tuck its legs and antennae and “play possum” until the predator loses interest. Eventually, it will wander off, perhaps looking for a little sustenance (flower nectar or leaf sap) or a mate.
Whatever it wants, it is not going to find it — or room and board — in my house.
Click Beetles–like bees, ants, butterflies, and some other insect orders — undergo a four-stage (complete) metamorphosis that includes the egg, larva (AKA “grub”), pupa, and adult. Although adults are harmless (I still don’t want one in my house), Click Beetle larvae cause significant agricultural and horticultural damage. Click Beetle grubs–also known as “wireworms” because of their elongated shape and hard exoskeletons (above right) — live in soil or dead wood for two to ten years, depending on the species. During that time, they prey on other wood-boring insects. Most other wireworm species, by comparison, chow down on roots and stems — including those attached to corn, potatoes, tobacco, turf grasses, garden ornamentals, and a variety of legumes. (Courtesy of Hilton Pond Center).
Apparently this beetle is fairly common, though in truth I’d never seen one before.
And now, to release my captured critter back to the wild outdoors.