Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rove Beetle

I was enjoying the view from one of the barrens when a gold and brown something came in low from the side and disappeared into the grass a few feet in front of me.  Keeping my eye on the spot in the grass, I moved forward and crouched down for a closer look.  Nothing was immediately obvious, so I got down on my knees and slowly began to move the dead grass leaves out of the way.  It wasn’t long before I found part of a body.

The creature kept burrowing deeper into the grass, but I eventually peeled away enough dead leaves to expose the full body.  A Rove Beetle, Platydracus maculosus.  Of all the possible beetles at Blue Jay Barrens, I just happened to find one I knew.

I finally managed to remove enough dead grass to get a good view.  After leading me on a short chase through several grass clumps, it now seemed relaxed.  Some Rove Beetles discourage attack by releasing an irritating chemical from the tip of the abdomen.  This specimen raised its abdomen several times, but I’m not certain that it’s a species that produces the irritant.

The Family of Rove Beetles is easily identified by the short wing covers that leave most of the abdomen exposed.  It’s amazing that the beetle is able to fold up a fully functional set of wings beneath those small flaps.  Even when fully exposed, it’s hard to get a good look at the beetle when it’s hugging the ground.  Besides the awkward view, it’s covered with dust picked up during the chase.

In an attempt to improve viewing, I picked up the beetle.  It circled my hand a couple of times and finally settled down after climbing halfway up my sweatshirt sleeve.  It spent considerable time cleaning itself.

This species is a predator of insects and other small organisms living in carrion, manure or other stinky accumulations of decomposing organic matter.  Strong jaws overlap in front of the mouth.  This is my first encounter with this species away from its food source.  It’s much more pleasant to observe the beetle in this situation than when it’s hunting beneath a bloated Opossum carcass.

The beetle’s body is full of rich gold, browns and bronzes.  Considering where the beetle normally finds its food, I’m not sure it’s a compliment to have this one think my sweatshirt might be harboring something to eat.  It may not always appear to be the case, but both the sweatshirt and its occupant are regularly washed.

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