Thursday, June 12, 2008

Caterpillar Hunter

I feel fortunate not to be a caterpillar. Oh, I have nothing against the little crawling tubes of gooey protein; in fact, many transform into stunning albeit short-lived moths and butterflies. The trick is staying alive long enough to grow wings.

Lots of things like to eat caterpillars, you see. Much the way a young baseball fan relishes hot dogs at the ball field, many songbirds and all manner of other predators covet tasty caterpillars. Consequently, most caterillars are active primarily at night, bcecause that strategy at least shakes off most of the birds, or at least greatly reduces one's chances of being a snack for a Yellow-throated Vireo.

But other nasties come out at night, too. Some of these monsters can really put a crimp on a peaceful evening of leaf-munching.

Caterpillar Hunter beetle, Calosoma scrutator, a caterpillar's worst nightmare. I encountered this fine specimen the other night, and managed some shots of what has to be one of the speediest beetles around. It's big - over an inch long - and boy do they scuttle. Constantly on the move, Caterpillar Hunters avidly search out the prey for which they are named, and with good vision and other powers of detection at their disposal, woe to the worm that finds itself in the path of one of these things.

Caterpillar Hunters are no fools - they come out only at night, too, just like their prey. Highly arboreal, they often race around the trees, seeking out all of the nighttime caterpillars. This lifestyle must work OK - these beetles can live for as long as three years!

Astonishingly beautiful bugs, upon close inspection. The carapace gleams an iridescent dark green, and is prominently furrowed with many shallow grooves. Like some sort of battle helmet of ancient times, the thorax is plated with bluish armor that looks as if some blacksmith beat it into shape from a chunk of copper. The edges are gilded in coppery brown, and those big eyes don't seem to miss a thing. Big beetles like this are almost eery in how they seem to size us up when we move in too close.

Grab it, and you're likely to get a good pinch from those massive mandibles, and I understand it can be a bit on the painful side. Worse though, probably, is the vile-smelling musk that the beetle blasts onto predators foolish enough to snatch them. I didn't try.

It's a war zone out there at night, with creatures on the prowl that are far worse than your most unpleasant childhood nightmares. Good thing for us some of them, like the Caterpillar Hunter, aren't the size of cows.

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