Wednesday, May 23, 2012

LOOK FOR: Eyed Click Beetles, Acrobats of the Bug World

Eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus)
Photo credit: Mary Keim
I'm a big fan of eye spots. In the animal world, they're meant to be scary, but to us humans those big "eyes" just make critters look like cartoon babies.

Bug-haters may struggle to join in on my fun, but come on, is this not one cool-looking insect?

Alaus oculatus -- the eyed click beetle or eyed elater -- can be almost 2 inches long. Their true eyes are up by the antennae. Those big spots are just evolution's way of saying, "don't mess with me, I'm either a snake or a really freakin' cool beetle."

Photo credit: Katja Schulz
But the eye spots are just part of why we love this bug.

Click beetles have a special hinged thorax. And when they're threatened, they bend that hinge to snap a little spine on the bottom of their thorax in and out of a special v-shaped notch. It doesn't just "click" -- it produces enough force to flip the beetle up in the air.

It's a helpful trick when they end up on their backs for some reason.

Like, say, when they happen to be placed on their backs by amused humans.

If you ever happen upon a click beetle, don't be afraid to play with it: they don't sting or bite. Just don't torture the poor things too much!
Amateur videos of quick-jumping beetles are fraught with focusing difficulties, but these two give you an idea of the action:

Eyed click beetle larva hang out in decaying logs and eat other beetle larvae; when we've come across these beetles it's always been in the woods. And, for some reason, we seem to come across them at this particular time of year.

Have you ever seen a click beetle? Where was it?