Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Eyed Click Beetle

The famous Magee Marsh bird trail wasn’t exactly hopping with the feathered crowd last Saturday, but many of us did get a “life beetle”. Thanks to the sharp-eyed Dan Sanders, who noticed the following bug as it lay camouflaged on the boardwalk hand rail. At one point, you’d of thought we had a Connecticut Warbler, such was the assembled throng. Indeed, at least one birder rushed over excitedly asking about what we had, only to deliver a somewhat disappointed “oh. a beetle?” They perked up when they saw this thing, though – it is a cool bug indeed!

Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus. And what eyes. You could get lost staring into those mysterious pools of loveliness. Except they are not eyes at all! The large spots exist to fool would-be predators into thinking something eminently more savage and dangerous is at hand, and this clever beetle has one more trick if all else fails, as we shall see.

This is not a small critter. In fact, we searched around feverishly for a size scale to provide a frame of reference. “Quick – get out a nickel!” Naw, too mundane – everyone uses a coin for these sorts of things. “Hey! Put the thing in your hand!” No way – none of us were THAT brave. Finally, “I got it – find a fearless kid and put it on them!” Now that sounded cool; we just had to find such a person – one who is charming, absolutely fearless, exceptionally cute, photogenic and with a strong interest in beetles.

Bingo! Enter Maddy, who is one of the state’s best young birders, has a passion for nature, and is utterly without fear of critters, even when it comes to savage-looking insects such as Eyed Click Beetles. Note the size of the beetle in relation to Maddy, as it climbs rapidly up to her shoulder. Didn’t faze her. Of course, what would you expect of a girl that has a tiger tattooed on her hand. Bet you wouldn’t have been the model. We grown men were quaking in our boots just looking at that bug.

These chitinous tiddlywinks get the “click” in their name for a reason. When harassed, they freeze, hoping that the gargantuan eyespots will frighten off Mr. Bird or whoever the stalker may be. If that fails, they employ the stiff rod that is under high tension on their underside. Seen here, it is the sticklike appendage that is fused onto the head, and tucked into a recess in the abdomen. Think of it as a sort of mouse trap, with the bar under tension, ready to be sprung.

And, with a bit of prodding, we see the clicker deployed. Let’s construct a real life hypothetical situation where the beetle might use this defense. Say two Tufted Titmice – we’ll call them Ed and Ralph - spot the beetle. ED: “Hey Ralph! Check that thing out!” RALPH: “I don’t know Ed – look at the eyes on that beast! Kinda creepy” ED: “What are ya, Ralph – a wimp?! It probably tastes like chicken!” RALPH: “OK, tough guy, go for it!”

So, Ed the titmouse makes a lunge for the beetle meal, and SNAP! The clicker clicks, sending the giant eye-spotted monster shooting six inches into the air, and in the blink of an eye. Cut to two fleeing titmice, who will never again pester anything that looks like this.

Nature is full of tricks.


Jack and Brenda said...

Great information. If I ever see one, now I'll know what they are.

jalynn01 said...

The entire story was delightful, and I did love seeing the beetle 'click' into the air. I loved that you named the titmice...Ed and Ralph.. I now know that all us bloggers are crazy that way! great information if I could remember it.

Dawn Fine said...

hee hee..
what a very cool bug indeed! thanks for a very informative post as always!

giggles said...

OK, this is just so weird..... I was just browsing your site this morning, having come here by way of the Scribe at Riverdaze (cuz I grew up in Cincy) and what do I learn about but this beetle....

Fast forward to this afternoon, taking my daughter to a birthday party which was being held at our local state park (Evansburg, in PA) and what oh what has the audacity to fly into my hair?????!!!! Some funky lookin' beetle with these huuuuuge eyes!!

Thanks to you, I knew exactly who I had! It unfortunately flew away before I could show it to the birthday kids.... I call these types of things, spiders, moths and such "Oh Cool"s.... This beetle was a very cool "Oh cool!" in my book!

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