Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Eastern hercules beetle

I recently received an email from Claudia Phillips, reporting what she thought to be a hercules beetle, found climbing a tree outside of her Portsmouth, Ohio office. Claudia offered to send along a few pics, and that she did.

Photo: Claudia Phillips

The King of the Beetles, at least in these parts. Ms. Phillips had indeed found an eastern hercules beetle, Dynastes tityus. Lucky her; I've yet to see one of these. We can also thank Claudia for having the foresight to stick a ruler in the photo so that we can get the scale of this carapaced monster. This one is a  male - they get a bit bigger than females - and it stretches the tape to two inches or more. I suppose your average Joe, upon finding such a creature, would EEK in horror and bash it with a club. I'm glad that beetle-friendly Claudia found the beetle, and decided to share it with us.

Photo: John Howard

Knowing little of these gargantuans, I emailed my friend John Howard, who lives in Adams County, which is adjacent to Scioto County where Claudia found her hercules beetle. Sure enough, John knew the bug and typically runs across two or three a year. He was good enough to send along a few of his stellar photos. This one is a male.

Photo: John Howard

Eastern hercules beetles are inextricably entertwined with dead wood. The females lay their eggs into rotting wood, and after a few months it hatches, releasing a grub which will grow to finger size. The grub wends its way through the rotting log, devouring pulp and eventually reaching elephantine proportions. If a Pileated Woodpecker gets wise to the grub and excavates it, the bird'll have the protein-rich equivalent of a footlong hotdog. Failing predation, the grub will form a hardened coccoon of wood bits cemented together with its saliva, and pupate for several months. Finally, come spring, the magnificent beetle that we see in these photos emerges, to the delight or horror of all those who see one.

Never underestimate the value of dead trees! To say that dead and dying trees, and logs littering the forest, are overaged or otherwise wasted is the height of ecological ignorance. An incredible web of life is spun in decaying timber; this spectacular beetle is but one of the more grandiose of the punkwood chewers.

Photo: John Howard

Stag hercules beetles certainly look fierce, with those jumbo horns. They're really not; the adult beetles feed primarily on sap that oozes from trees. But when it comes rutting time, watch out! Rival males square off and joust with one another using those horns. I'm sure that a battle between two of these titans is a sight to see.

Thanks to Claudia Phillips for sharing her wonderful find, and John Howard for providing his outstanding photos.

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9 comments:

Beyond My Garden said...

I found one of these in our basement when I was little and had nightmares from then on every time my parents said, "don't let the bedbugs bite."
It is still an incredible bug.
nellie

Jim Bobo said...

We just found one of these(in central Fla.) and looked up what it was through your site. This bug is exactly as you describe. I can report that as it climbed my bare arm toward my shoulder, it began a soft hissing sound. Four short sounds, repeated frequently.
We also could smell a mild musky odor. Thank you for the great reference material & photos.
J. Bobo

Anonymous said...

I found a dead one lying by my church in central city, Kentucky. Glad to know what it is, finally.

Jim Gloyd said...

I may name is Jim and I am a native to Ohio also. Like you Jim, I have been a nature enthusiast since I was in boy scouts. I remember when I was a kid I would collect insects and feathers. I had a great collection from bigger feathers to a humming bird’s feather. I started a butterfly and moth collection as an adult having even almost every Saturnidae moths found I Ohio. I have since sold the collection. I do have a few left, even some lantern flies (fulgorid), cicada, and beetles such as Goliath, 5 horned rhino, and Acrocinus Longimanus on display in my house. Some of these are not native and was purchased on Ebay. I would love to find one of these native Hercules…let me know Jim if you find a way to do an exploration for one…I would be interested in going. I can be contacted at mingloyd@gmail.com.

Anonymous said...

I saw one of these a few nights ago by the wooden stairs at my apartment complex. My girlfriend saw it first and squealed and scurried back towards me. Laughing I went to see what it was and I was amazed at the size of this beetle. I had never seen an insect as big as this one and tried to get a picture of it but couldn't really get a good one. It was on the hand rail of the stairs the following two nights and I haven't seen it since. I looked it up to see what kind it was and hoping it wasn't too rare in hopes to see another one soon so I can get a better picture.

Anonymous said...

I saw one of these a few nights ago by the wooden stairs at my apartment complex. My girlfriend saw it first and squealed and scurried back towards me. Laughing I went to see what it was and I was amazed at the size of this beetle. I had never seen an insect as big as this one and tried to get a picture of it but couldn't really get a good one. It was on the hand rail of the stairs the following two nights and I haven't seen it since. I looked it up to see what kind it was and hoping it wasn't too rare in hopes to see another one soon so I can get a better picture. I live in Evansville, Indiana.

Anonymous said...

Evansville, Indiana

Erica Aleece Morris said...

Hi! From Lonoke County Arkansas. My cat was playing with a large beetle bug that looked just like the pics of the male. Had never seen anything like it! So I searched Google and found this blog. :) Did you know these things also have wings!? Do/can/will they bite people or other animals like cats, dogs, or chickens? Thank you.

RCowan said...

Found one of these in the parking lot at my office in Fort Smith, AR yesterday. My son competed in Entomology in high school so we are always excited to find new and interesting specimens to test his knowledge. We were all amazed by the size and 'beauty' of this big guy. I admit I would have been a bit intimidated if he had still been alive and moving. Happy to share pictures if you'd like. Just let me know where to send...