I found this specimen October, 20, 2018 when I went for a walk and I’m excited to add it to my insect checklist. This is the larva of the beetle Heterosilpha ramosa, also known as the Prairie or GardenCarrion Beetle. It is classified within the family Silphidae, a group of beetles named after their preference for dining on carrion. Both adult and larval forms of carrion beetles typically feed on dead things. There are two subfamilies within the Silphidae. The Silphinae and the Nicrophorinae. Nicrophorus beetles actually have bi-parental care of their young, but that’s for another post!
The strange thing about Heterosilpha ramosa is that it doesn’t quite fit the category it’s been placed into. There isn’t much online either to help with the derivation of its name, but this is what I’ve put together. For the genus: Hetero meaning different or other and Silphid, which comes from the Greek word silphe, “a kind of beetle.” The species name, ramosa means “full of branches” and refers to the beetle’s branched elytral costae or the main veins on the leading edge of an insect wing. I love looking up the name derivations for insects. Curiously, we get ramosa from “Ramos,” a Spanish or Portuguese name derived from the Latin “ramus” to describe someone who lived in a thickly wooded area.
Yes, I digressed a bit! Back to the feeding habits of this creature and its name: Heterosilpha. Instead of only eating carrion, it is a generalist feeder which means it eats lots of different things, other than carrion! The common name, Garden or Prairie Carrion beetle refers to its habit of feeding on plant detritus and sometimes even nibbling the leaves and roots of living plants you may have in the garden. Generally it is believed to do more good than harm in gardens or crop systems since it feeds on snails and other invertebrate pests.
Heterosilpha ramosa larva photo by Cynthia Brast October 20, 2018 San Juan Island, WA
In my search, I also found out that this is yet another understudied creature. It is unfortunate that we know so little about the world that exists under our feet! Here is a photo of an adult Heterosilpha ramosa. For now, I am waiting to see if the larva I found pupates. Check back for updates and be sure to look for interesting bugs next time you’re out on a walk!
Photo credit to https://insectsofsouthernontario.ca/heterospila-ramosa/
Yesterday’s “Word of the Day” on my new Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/buggingyoufromSJI was “ Thanatosis.” Thanatosis is a behavior otherwise known as “playing dead!” Here’s an insect I found on the roadside the other evening, doing exactly that. Only about 15mm long, it was amazing to even recognize it as something other than a piece of bark.
What is it? This beetle is in the family of Ironclad beetles known as the Zopheridae. It is a species called Phellopsis porcata, one of only two North American species in the genus Phellopsis. Little is known about this cryptic beetle, a bumpy, and bark-like “armored soldier.” It is camouflaged from view in what remains of our old-growth forests. This beetle does not fly, so as habitat disappears, so will the beetle. We may never know the entire scope of its role in our forest ecosystems unless these areas are protected.
What do we know about P. porcata? Researchers have documented the behavior of thanatois or playing dead to escape predation, and in the Pacific Northwest, this species feeds on fungi and is associated with western hemlock trees (Tsuga heterophylla).
I like beetles. There are interesting ones all over the place…and they do REALLY interesting things. Some can cry like babies. Some like to pat poo into nice little balls and roll them back to their home. Some hang around to take care of their offspring and even “play music” to call them to breakfast…or lunch…or dinner! Some do “bad” things like eat your plants …or your trees…or your house! Some wear really cool suits of shiny armor. They can look like miniature versions of dinosaurs or imaginary space aliens! Some have really cool names…like this one I found the other day…with many friends…hanging out on a dead fir tree. Its name? The FAINTING beetle! That’s exactly what it did when I walked up….fainted right over onto the ground! Stayed that way too…for about 30 seconds with its bright red (aposmatically colored) abdomen warning me it would taste VERY bad if I decided to eat it. No worries there little bug. I was only going to take your photo. Now the scientific name of this fella (or maybe it was a “she”) is Enoclerus sphegeus. It eats the bark beetles that eat fir and pine trees. Check out the photos and next time you see a beetle, take a moment to “admire and inquire” before you automatically stomp it! Not all bugs are bad.
Interested to know more. Check out some of these references for further reading:
Boone, C., Six, D., and K. Raffa. 2008. The enemy of my enemy is still my enemy: competitors add to predator load of a tree-killing bark beetle. Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 10(4), 411-421.
Rasmussen, L. 1976. Keys to Common Parasites and Predators of the Mountain Pine Beetle. USDA Forest Service Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. Ogden, UT. General Technical Report INT-29
Last year I had to put together a collection of insects for my graduate course at the University of Florida. In this photo, I have a Ten-lined June Beetle that I pretty much stole away from a robin that was after it. The beetle came home with me and I’m sorry to say I put it in the freezer and later added it with the rest of the bugs that eventually got me an “A”.
A few days ago, a friend called me up. “Would you like another June Beetle?” he asked. I drove over to pick it up and afterwards, took a few photos with my new macro lens, fixed up a nice plastic box insect habitat and thought I’d take a few days to decide what to do with it next.
Daily, I peeked into the box. Not sure what to feed it, I thought a little about whether my June Beetle might be hungry. Yesterday though, when I looked into the box, I found him buried into the grass. What was most noticeable to me was the fact that his antennae which had been upwards directed, were now pointing down. He looked depressed – like he’d just accepted the fate that had come his way. No! I thought to myself….I can’t keep him locked up like this. So, grabbing my camera, I took my June Beetle (now named Jerry) outside. I carefully took him out of the box and set him on a branch propped against a rock. The sun was shining and warm and almost instantly, he perked up. Those antennae started to rise, then waved around and spread open into intricately designed fans that were getting signals only he could interpret.
I snapped away with my camera, enjoying the experience of watching life come into him. It wasn’t more than maybe five minutes and “Jerry” June Beetle decided to try his wings. His first attempt to take-off failed. So did his second….but he got it right on the third try and I watched amazed as he lifted into the air. He rose almost directly upward and as he reached about 20 feet, he circled over me twice before heading over to the big Douglas Fir tree in my yard. Freedom was his! And me? Well, I have come full circle. You can learn so much more from observing a creature in its natural habitat than in captivity. Thank you “Jerry” June Beetle. It was nice making your acquaintance. 🙂
See more of Jerry and his transformation below!
Thank you for setting me free! Love, Jerry the Ten-Lined June Beetle