Sunday 6: The Photographer and the Annoying Little Seed Beetle

Well, getting this up yesterday clearly didn’t happen, but what can you do? Seeing as I didn’t get a single dragonfly swarm report all week and have nothing to report for Swarm Sunday, I’m going to do my Friday 5 post today. Sunday is just as good as Saturday anyway.

Some of my favorite beetles in Arizona are the seed beetles in the family Bruchidae. Someday I’ll write a post about a fantastic behavior they have that one of my classmates works on, but for today I’m going to tell you a story in photos. This is the story of the Photographer and the Annoying Little Seed Beetle. I hope you enjoy it!

Once upon a time, there was a photographer. She liked to do studio portraits of insects as a way to practice using her camera flashes, so she brought many insects into her house to photograph them. One day, she came upon an adorable little seed beetle. “What a fabulous beetle!” she exclaimed! “I MUST photograph that one.” So she scooped it up and brought it inside, determine to get a great photo of the little beetle.

She set the beetle down inside the studio, but it played dead!

I’m dead!

“Look at me!” it mimed. “I’m a dead beetle, and not very tasty, so leave me alone!

The photographer wasn’t fooled. “These beetles play dead. I will have to wait for it to start moving again and THEN I will get my great photo!”

So she waited. And she waited. And she waited some more. Suddenly, whoosh!


The beetle had righted itself and run across the kitchen counter in the blink of an eye! The photographer had to scramble to catch it before it jumped off the counter and was lost, but she grabbed it and put it back in the studio. It played dead again.

Nothing to see here… Just a dead beetle…

So the photographer waited. And she waited. And she waited some more. Suddenly, whoosh!

Run run run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the seed beetle man!

Once again the beetle had jumped up and run across the counter. Once again she grabbed it right before the beetle disappeared off the counter and placed it back into the studio.

“Maybe now I will get my good shot,” the thought.

But it wasn’t to be. The beetle played dead. The beetle ran.  When it ran, it ran full-bore across the counter like its very life depended on it. She began to despair that she was never going to get her great shot, when she got one she was excited about:

Upsie daisy!

It was an accident though. She had wanted to take a photo of the beetle playing dead, but the beetle jumped up right when she pushed the shutter release button. She ended up getting a shot of the beetle in the process of flipping itself right side up.

In the excitement of getting the shot, the beetle jumped off the counter and she had to search for it on the floor. Thankfully she found it! Her husband never would have forgiven her for releasing insects into the house.

The photographer spent over an hour photographing the little seed beetle. As adorable as it was, it wasn’t cooperative at all, so she never did get the photo she wanted. She imagined that the beetle was laughing at her.

Ha ha!

She finally decided to put the beetle back outside and start again some other day. Maybe the next seed beetle would be more cooperative…

The End

And that, my friends, is the story of how I was defeated by a stupid little seed beetle. That was the most frustrating insect I’ve ever tried to photograph! If it wasn’t playing dead, it was on the move. Normally when I’m irritated that I can’t get the shot I want it’s because I haven’t considered a camera setting that would work better, i.e. it is my fault. This seriously annoying photo shoot was all the beetle’s fault! And then I moved, so I never did get the really great shot. Sometimes that’s just how life works though.  If there’s a moral to the story I shared, that’s it.

If you haven’t already entered my contest and would like to do so, the deadline is tonight at midnight, Pacific time. There are some great entries already, but I’m excited by the great ideas that you all have come up with so far and I’d love to see more!  Good luck!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: From the Pond

Last Friday was incredibly hot in North Carolina, so it wasn’t the best day to be outside.  I spent most of it indoors, but I didn’t get to stay inside the whole day.  Thankfully, the things I had to do outdoors were either brief or fun, and I finally got a chance to spend a few moments rooting around in the pond down the hill from my office.  There was some great stuff in there too!  I scooped a few choice things into a little bucket and brought them back up to the office to look at more closely, then I brought it all home to photograph.  The big things were exciting, including…



Skimmer dragonfly nymph

Shallows ponds like the one where I work are pretty amazing places!  They’ve got a huge variation in habitats, from the mucky bottom to the sides of emergent vegetation (like cattails) to the algae floating on the surface.  If you scoop a sample from the cattails, you’ll get different things than you will from the bottom or at the surface or in the open water.  This lovely dragonfly nymph came from the mucky bottom.  Look at all those hairs on the legs!  Pretty cool nymph.  Sadly, it was eaten by the…


Predaceous diving beetle larva

Predaceous diving beetle larva

This has got to be a Dytiscus species because it was absolutely gigantic, over 2 inches long!  It walked around and around the bucket with those enormous jaws held wide open.  Every now and then it would try to sneak up on the dragonfly and grab it, but the latter kept getting away.  Apparently the beetle eventually succeeded because I woke up a dead dragonfly nymph held fast in the jaws of the beetle.  What an impressive beetle larva!  It did not succeed in grabbing this nymph though…


creeping water bug

Creeping water bug

We had a lot of naucorids in Arizona, so these seem like a perfectly normal thing to find in a pond to me.  What I’m not used to seeing is a pale green bug with crazy red demon eyes!  When the light hit the eyes just right, they even glowed a little, which made them downright creepy.  This insect is, I’m told, also one of the most painful of the aquatic insects you can be bitten by, which adds to the creepy factor of the red eyes.

Another green thing was very abundant in the pond…


duckweed roots

Duckweed roots

I figured I should include at least one thing that wasn’t an insect here because so many other things belong to the pond’s ecosystem.  Duckweed is one productive little plant!  A few tiny little plants is all it takes to start forming a dense mat that can eventually cover the entire surface of a pond. There’s not that much duckweed on the Prairie Ridge pond yet, but it’s going to be interesting to see how much of the surface is eventually covered this summer.  I can’t help but love duckweed though!  It’s one of the smallest flowering plants in the world, just a little cluster of tiny bright green leaves attached to a root system.  The whole plant floats on the surface of the water with the roots dangling below in the water, as you see in the photo above.  It’s an adorable little plant.

The best thing I found in the pond though, was something that I only saw because I caught a tiny motion out of the corner of my eye:


phantom midge

Phantom midge larva

I can only imagine that these are called phantom midges because they are so darned hard to see in the water!  This larva was absolutely transparent except for the big air bubbles you can see inside the larva in the photo and the tiny black marks.  It was nearly impossible to see in the bucket and every time I lost track of it I had to spend several minutes staring into the water to see it again.  Phantom midges are cool looking insects, but they’re also one of the few insects that live out in the open water of ponds and lakes.  Most aquatic insects in ponds are found on the bottom or close to the shoreline (in the littoral zone) , but these are often found swimming about right out in the open water.  They move up and down in the water column by adjusting the air in those little air sacs and avoid predation by hiding near the bottom during the day and coming up to the surface to hunt with their prehensile antennae at night.  If that’s not the coolest aquatic insect, I’m not sure what is!  And this was the very first one I’ve ever seen.  I couldn’t have been happier to find it!

That’s a tiny taste of what’s living in the pond down the hill.  I’ll be down there doing programs throughout the year, so it will be interesting to see how the populations change over time and how shifts in the dominant species occur.  And, it’s only a 3 minute walk!  I had to drive at least 30 minutes to get to any sort of habitable water in Arizona, so having a pond so close is a dream come true.  And someday I’ll get down into the creek too.  I’ll let you know what I find when I do!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Oars for Swimming

The predaceous diving beetles in the genus Thermonectus are some of the most elegant swimmers I’ve ever seen.  They paddle around serenely in open pooled areas of desert streams and you can look down into the water and see dozens of them calmly swimming about at all depths.  They accomplish their smooth, beautiful swimming because they are completely smooth and slippery and water just slides right over them.  But they also have enormous, oar-like hind legs, easily visible in this photo:


Thermonectus marmoratus

Wish I could swim as gracefully as these beetles do.  Apparently I need to grow some different legs!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Buprestids in Love

When I was out doing field work last summer, I came across tons of these little jewel beetles (or metallic wood-boring beetles, depending on who you talk to – they’re beetles in the family Buprestidae):

buprestids in love

Buprestids in love

I think they are absolutely beautiful!  And you can’t beat a good mid-week bug porn photo either.  :)

PS: Anyone know which buprestids they are?  Maybe Acmaeodera?  I haven’t tried to ID them yet, so you’d save me some time I don’t have if you know.


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Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Beetle Aggregation

We stopped alongside a road to collect insects from a small stream during one of my aquatic entomology classes and came across hundreds, maybe thousands, of these beetles:

aggregation of beetles

Lots of beetles!

Aren’t they beautiful?!  According to the lovely, fabulous, wonderful people at (did I’m mention that they’re fantastic?), the stripey beetles are Paranaemia vittigera, a member of the family Coccinellidae.  Striped ladybugs!  Super cool beetles, especially in such huge numbers.


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Friday 5: Recent Bug Photos (Briefly)

Due to a death in my family a few days ago, today’s Friday 5 is going to be short.  I’m out of town and don’t have access to my main hard drive, so it’s a little tough to do a good post anyway.  However, I have taken a ton of bug photos recently, largely as a way to stop thinking about sad things for a little while, and I have my cameras with me.  These are 5 of my recent favorites.

This beetle (the ten-lined June beetle, Polyphylla decemlineata) has been out in force in Flagstaff, AZ the last few nights.  Hundreds of them have come to the porch light each night.  They squeak when you pick them up too!  Pretty fun distraction.  This isn’t the most technically precise photo of the bunch I took, but I love the look of his (or her – don’t know why but I call all animals “he” until I know better) face:

ten-lined June beetle

Ten-lined June beetle, Polyphylla decemlineata

Okay, so you’ve seen several photos of palo verde beetles recently, but photographing them was a joy for me.  Hence, another Derobrachus hovorei:

palo verde beetle

Palo verde beetle, Derobrachus hovorei

A damselfly from Flagstaff, AZ.  It’s probably a plains forktail (Ischnura damula) or pacific forktail (I. cervula), but I honestly haven’t put much effort into IDing it yet.  Identifying a random damselfly hasn’t even come close to the top of my list of priorities lately, and I’m not great at IDing adult damselflies anyway:

Forktail damselfly, Ischnura sp.

This beetle (along with palo verde beetles) always makes me think of summer in Tucson, AZ.  This is a fig beetle, Cotinis mutabilis, aka my June bug:

fig beetle

Fig beetle, Cotinis mutabilis

Finally, I have no idea what this long-horned beetle is and haven’t even begun to try to ID it, but I thought he was just lovely.  And look at those long hairs on the abdomen!  He was sitting under the porch light at my house in Tucson earlier this week:

Longhorn beetle

Long-horned beetle

This may be my shortest Friday 5 yet, but it’s the best I can do.  Hope you enjoyed the pretty bugs!


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Palo Verde Beetles

It’s that time of year again!  Time for the palo verde beetles to descend on Tucson and fill the night sky with giant beetles flying around drunkenly looking for mates.  I already wrote a post about how much I love these beetles and promised to write more about their biology.  Today I am making good on that promise!

Meet the palo verde beetle (or palo verde root borer beetle), Derobrachus hovorei:

palo verde beetle top view

Palo verde beetle

I think these beetles are one of the best parts of living in the Sonoran Desert.  Each summer when the monsoons begin, these beetles start to appear.  They’re large, dark brown nocturnal beetles, 3 – 3.5 inches long.  Check out the long, luxurious antennae:

palo verde beetle antenna

Palo verde beetle antenna

Palo verde beetles belong to the beetle family Cerambycidae, the longhorn beetles.  You can see how the family got its common name!  Nearly all members of the group have these long antennae, including several important wood pest species (such as the Asian longhorn beetles).  The palo verde beetle is no exception.

I think the palo verde beetles look rather fierce.  Check out the spikes on the thorax:

palo verde beetle thorax

Palo verde beetle thorax

And the big pinching mouthparts (called mandibles):

palo verde beetle jaws

Palo verde beetle jaws

In spite of their size, their armor, and the powerful jaws, these beetles are largely harmless.  That’s not to say that they won’t flail about wildly and try to bite you if you pick them up, and they can deliver a strong, painful pinch if you’re not careful.  (That’s never stopped me from picking them up!)  Mostly though, the beetles use those impressive mandibles for fighting and/or mating.  I posted a photo of a male and a female palo verde beetle struggling with each other before they mated a while back and jaws were used extensively as the male subdued the female.  In fact, she lost a leg and both antennae in the struggle.  Those strong jaws are also used by males in battles with one another to win females.  The better fighter a male is, the more females he has a chance to mate with.

There’s one thing the jaws aren’t used for though: feeding.  Adult palo verde beetles don’t feed at all and rely on nutrient reserves they ingested as larvae to fuel their adult activities.  As result, their adult lifespans are pretty short, less than a month.  During that month, they fly around (not very well and in the dark – there’s nothing quite like seeing one of these flying toward your head at night!), fight, mate, and lay eggs.  That’s a lot to do for a large flying animal that doesn’t eat!

Once a male finds and mates with a female, the female will burrow into the soil at the base of trees and lay her eggs about a foot down.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the roots of the trees, focusing on the starches within the roots.  After 2-3 years of feeding and growing, the larvae are enormous and look like this:

palo verde beetle larva

Palo verde beetle larva! This one was over 3 inches long.

The larvae have strong and powerful mouthparts too, essential for cutting trees roots open so they can eat.  When they’ve grown large enough, they pupate underground.  The adult emerges when the monsoons arrive and dig their way up to the surface, leaving large round holes around the base of the tree where they grew up.  Then they go about the serious business of flying around in the dark (scaring a lot of people in the process), looking for mates, and starting the whole process all over again.

Palo verde beetles get their name from the palo verde tree, a gorgeous desert tree with green bark native to the Sonoran Desert.  If you dig up palo verde trees, you will supposedly nearly always find several palo verde beetle larvae happily munching away on the roots.  Because they are root borers and root borers are commonly associated with dead, dying, or unhealthy trees, palo verde beetles are often considered pests.  If you search the internet, you’ll find all sorts of crazy ideas for how to rid your yard of these “dangerous” beetles so that they don’t kill your trees.  It all a bit sensationalistic though!  Palo verde beetles DO eat roots of trees, but consider this: there are millions of palo verde trees in the Sonoran Desert and nearly all of them have several palo verde beetle larvae gnawing on their roots.  If the beetles are really destroying tress, wouldn’t there be fewer palo verde trees around?  Palo verde beetles can cause some damage to trees, especially non-native ornamentals, but usually only in trees that are already having problems.  The best defense against palo verde beetle damage is taking care of your trees!  If you keep young trees healthy by watering them regularly and fertilizing, they will usually be able to withstand palo verde beetle larvae eating their roots quite well.

While I completely understand why people might be scared of these lumbering, giant beetles – they are VERY large after all – I can’t help but love them!  I associate them with lazy, hot summers and the arrival of the much-needed rains.  They’re hilarious to watch flying around.  And they’re stunning!  As proof, I leave you with this last image:

Palo verde beetle side

Palo verde beetle, side view

Love ’em!


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