Last Wednesday night, moth expert Seabrooke Leckie had set up her traps outside the New River Gorge Visitor's Center near Fayetteville, West Virginia. Following that evening's program - part of the New River Birding & Nature Festival - the group wandered out to see what Seabrooke had captured. She uses white sheets that are brightly lit, and the lights lure all manner of moths, and other bugs. I was delighted when she returned from a check of the sheets carrying this splendid beetle, in part because they are cool, and also because I had never made any decent photos of caterpillar-hunters.
One must exercise some caution when handling caterpillar-hunters. They've got two compelling deterrents to would-be predators. One, of course, is those powerful mandibles, which can deliver a painful nip to a person. The other is a chemical defense. A cornered caterpillar-hunter releases a VERY malodorous plume of noxious substances, as everyone who saw this animal can attest. After we worked with the beetle for a bit, the foul smell subsided, fortunately.
After we finished with the photo session, we released the beetle into a nearby tree. This species can overwinter, and individuals allegedly can live for three years. So, many more caterpillars are likely to come face to face with a nightmare on six legs before this animal's run is complete.