I Don’t Know What Kind of Beetle This Is

I have no idea what kind of beetle this is.  It looks like a pretty nondescript black beetle, doesn’t it?  I bet it’s not.  I bet it has a life strategy that would knock your socks off if you knew about it. 

When I say that, I’m not even talking about its incredible transmogrification ability.  I mean, we already know this adult beetle was once a larva that looked COMPLETELY different than it does in the picture.  It was a wingless, and probably long and skinny creature that bore little resemblance to its adult form and might have been herbivorous or carnivorous – it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that at some point, a very different-looking larva entered a pupal stage, and when it emerged from that pupa, it had totally transformed into what it looks like today.  That’s CRAZY.  Nobody reading this has ever gone through any body transformation remotely comparable to that.  And yet, that’s not even what I’m talking about when I’m betting you it has a fascinating life strategy.

You’re probably thinking,  “I bet he’s going to tell me what that amazing story is now.”  Don’t get your hopes up.  I’m not.  I don’t know what it is.  I’m just promising you that it’s a good one. 

I have a second photo of a beetle that looks a lot like the first one.  It might be the same species – it’s hard to tell.  The angle of the photo is different and the way the light is reflecting makes it difficult to say whether it’s the same color or not. Regardless, I’ll further guarantee you that THIS beetle also has facets of its life that would make you sit up and say ‘Wow’.  I just have no idea what those facets are.

I can’t promise you that the beetles shown here have a story that’s as good as the oil beetle.  That’s a pretty tough act to top.  Not every beetle produces larvae that cluster together and produce a chemical that smells like a female bee. Those larvae hop on the male bee that comes to investigate, transfer themselves to a female when the frustrated male actually finds a real one, and then ride the female back to her nest where they attack and eat her babies.  Not many species, let alone the beetle(s) featured here, are going to match that story.  Still, I’d wager real money that the life history of the nondescript-looking beetle(s) is a really good one.

Assuming for the moment that the two beetles I’ve photographed are the same species, I wonder what it eats?  Both individuals were photographed on sunflowers, so it’s possible the species feeds on sunflower pollen, like many other insects.  Alternatively, maybe it’s a predator that feeds on the insects that feed on the pollen.  Or, maybe it feeds on both the pollen AND insects that feed on pollen.  So many intriguing possibilities.  It might even lay its eggs on the sunflower so its larvae will hatch and consume the seeds. 

That last possibility reminds me of the silphium weevil, another beetle that lays its eggs on sunflower blossoms.  However, I doubt the beetle from these photos follows the silphium weevil’s example of girdling the stem beneath the flower before laying eggs on it.  You have to admire that strategy, though, because when the flower eventually falls to the ground, the larvae can hatch and burrow directly and safely into the ground where they overwinter.  The girdling might also make that flower less attractive to other invertebrate species (like our beetle?) who might be considering laying eggs on it.  That helps ensure more food for the weevil babies.  It would be really neat to know that our beetle has that kind of strategy, but it probably doesn’t.  It has its own unique and mesmerizing approach to life.

This would be a great time to tell you that I’ve been leading you on this whole time, and I’m now going to reveal both the identity of this post’s featured beetle and its captivating life story.  Unfortunately, I’ve been completely honest with you and I don’t know that story.  Maybe someone reading this will recognize the beetle and share what they know with us in the comment section below.  That would be awesome, and we could all revel in yet another example of the incredible diversity found within the life strategies of earth’s creatures. 

Alternatively, maybe no one will know much about this beetle, and we’ll all be left wondering what it is we’re missing out on.  There are so many insect species in the world, we have yet to discover many of their identities, let alone their life histories – which can take a lot of research to glean.  We just don’t have enough scientists studying invertebrates…  

…which is really odd, given the remarkable and appealing attributes of creatures like this beetle!

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

11 thoughts on “I Don’t Know What Kind of Beetle This Is

  1. I am a recent subscriber to this blog (thanks to seeing the Field Guide to Roadside Wildflowers at Full Speed on Colossal) and I just wanted to let you know that I love the way you write about nature – it is very similar to the way I talk and feel (and would write, if I had a blog) about the forest where I work. A different kind of landscape than wetland or prairie, but just as amazing, wonderful, and surprising. And sorry, I don’t know anything about those beetles.

    • Caroline, why don’t you start a blog for your forest? Your employer might even encourage you to do so. I wrote a blog about the natural area where I worked for 30 years. In the end, though, I have to admit that very few people read the blog and I started posting increasingly less frequently because I wasn’t getting feedback. I’ve re-read some of my posts recently; they still “hold up” and I’m proud of them.

      • Thank you for the encouragement – it is not that I don’t want to write a blog, or even that my employer wouldn’t be supportive (I think they would) – it is really about 1. making it a priority in terms of use of time and (more importantly) 2. I am not sure about “publicizing” the area too much as it already gets a lot of use, which is not necessarily the best thing for natural areas.

  2. We could write books on the things we DON’T know about insects. I try not to kill insects on purpose, but sometimes it happens. For sure, I don’t feel bad about flies, mosquitoes and ticks! It sounds like a lot of ag seeds are treated with neonicotinoids or other insecticides. Farmers accept these seeds or even ask for them because ‘Why not, maybe they’ll help.’ (This mentality is also seen in homeowners that apply lawn insecticides with no diagnosed problem.) I hope people who have contact with farmers encourage them to NOT choose this seed unless they have to (for cutworms, for example). The reason is that the insecticides kill unintended targets like ground beetles which eat their weight in pests! They are primary foragers of slugs and fields that have been planted with these treated seeds can then later be devastated by slugs after all the ground beetles die. Ground beetles are probably just one example of something we can quantify. What other insects are dying, whose purpose we haven’t discovered or thought of? (besides bees, of course)

  3. Nature is truly mind blowing and awesome!!

    On Mon, Feb 10, 2020 at 11:07 AM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” I have no idea what kind of beetle this is. It > looks like a pretty nondescript black beetle, doesn’t it? I bet it’s not. > I bet it has a life strategy that would knock your socks off if you knew > about it. When I say that, I’” >

  4. I don’t know Chris we go through some pretty amazing changes in the womb before birth and then some amazing growth after.

  5. I’ve seen this beetle before, too. And I think I went to BugGuide.net for ID. I bet they even ID’d it for me. Can’t for the life of me remember what it was, though. But that’s not the purpose of my comment – I just love this piece. Your writing style is much like mine (when I used to do a regular nature blog), and it is great fun to read. And, like you, I am stunned by all the amazing ways life goes on around us. Let’s get that word out to more and more people!!! Keep up the good work.

  6. I’m just here patiently waiting for someone to identify the beetle because now I have to know what kind it is. Though a dive into BugGuide.net is now on my list of things to do.

  7. As always, it is great fun to hear such personality come through in your posts. I devote energy to perpetually learning about flora, fauna is great, but I’m good with just observing the color and behavior of beetles. I don’t recall Beetlejuice ever defining a species and I’m quite certain that didn’t affect the popularity of the movie.

    Any intentions of a book, you’ve got all the makings for one! ;) (we’ve discussed in person before)

  8. Pingback: Prairie Memes | The Prairie Ecologist


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