Friday 5: Insects The Dogs Ate

I’ve got two dogs.  This one was part of the bargain when I started dating the man who is now my husband:



Her name is Cotton and she’s a purebred coton de tulear.  She’s also purebred crazy!  I’m not a little white fluffy dog person at all, but I think Cotton’s pretty awesome as far as LWF dogs go.  She has issues.  Big issues.  I’m pretty sure she was a cat in a former life actually.  She doesn’t like to be touched, unless of course she decides she wants to be touched, in which case you are obligated to immediately drop whatever you are doing and pet her RIGHT NOW!  She won’t eat the same food for more than a few days in a row.  She scratches the hell out of your legs.  And, she is a fierce hunter.  See what I mean?  Cat!

This one is my baby:



Monkey is a mutt (obviously).  I rescued him from the pound, my reward to myself for passing my comprehensive exams.  And what a reward he’s been!  He came down with parvo two weeks after I got him and nearly died.  He came home from intensive care with a stubborn case of kennel cough, which eventually turned into pneumonia because the normal medications didn’t work.  He caught valley fever while he had the pneumonia and underwent treatment for that for about 6 months.  Next came inflammatory bowel disease (that’s right, my dog has a canine gastroenterologist) and most recently luxating patellas (might be getting an orthopedic veterinarian soon) and a skin disorder.  He averages one vet visit every 2 months.  But Monkey is worth every penny and every worry because he’s the sweetest, most loving, wonderful dog I could imagine having.  In spite of all of his illnesses, he’s full of life and personality.  He’s also a total mama’s boy.  I adore him.

My dogs are polar opposites.  Monkey craves (nay, demands!) attention while Cotton wouldn’t dream of demeaning herself with such base behavior.  Monkey is prissy and very clean while Cotton would happily spend the rest of her life rolling in a big ol’ pile of duck poop (the only reason why I’m convinced she’s actually a dog deep down).  Cotton is very nervous and barks at everyone and everything while Monkey would invite Satan himself into the house if it meant he’d be petted for a few minutes.  To hell with guarding the house!  That suspicious person knocking on the door might pat his head or scratch his belly!

They’re also very different in the way they handle bugs.  Monkey isn’t at all sure what to make of insects.  I think they scare him, which puts him firmly into the male camp in our household.  :)  Cotton’s hunting instincts kick in when she encounters an insect (she belongs to the female camp) and she’ll happily eat insects that are bothering her.  She’ll chase flies for twenty or thirty minutes at a time, even launching her whole body into the air trying to catch them (once again, cat characteristic).  Occasionally one of these ends up in her mouth and is quickly dispatched into her stomach:



Both dogs are incredibly jealous when the other one gets something that they don’t though.  It really comes into play in their dealings with insects around the house and jealousy can override their usual instincts.  One night Monkey was playing with a click beetle he found in the bathroom:

click beetle

Click beetle

He kept putting his paw on it and then jerking back when the beetle clicked.  He seemed to be nervously trying to figure it out, but then Cotton noticed he was up to something and ran in and ate the beetle so he couldn’t have it.  He chased her through the house for a while, presumably trying to get it back, but it was down the hatch the instant Cotton got it into her mouth.  Cotton doesn’t mess around.

Another night I was in the back yard taking photos by the porch light and Cotton was toying with a cicada.  Monkey was very upset that she was playing with something that he wasn’t, so he ran over, grabbed the cicada in his mouth, and ran into the house with it.  It was still alive, and considering his nervousness around insects, I can’t imagine it was pleasant for him to carry a screaming, angry cicada in his mouth.  He wasn’t about to swallow it, but he certainly wasn’t going to let Cotton have it either!  10 minutes later, I finally extracted this slimy, dead cicada from his mouth:



You can’t see the teeth marks from this angle, but the deep puncture wounds in its back were likely the source of this poor bug’s demise.

We’ve got a ton of these little ants in the house:


Ants on my kitchen counter.

Both dogs will eat these when they crawl onto their fur.  I’ve seen them stomp a few with their paws too.  I don’t think these ants sting, so I don’t worry about the dogs eating them too much.  The ants annoy the dogs and they respond by licking them up and swallowing them or crushing them.  But there are also a lot of these:



Monkey doesn’t like crickets at all and gives them a very wide berth.  Cotton eats them like candy.  She’s even tracked and eaten them before.  This is great because I hate the noise crickets make.  I’m happy that my little huntress exterminates them for me so I don’t have to do it myself.  Go crazy little Cotton!

Thankfully neither of my dogs have ever eaten any of the stupid things other dogs in Tucson have eaten.  The beagle I grew up with once ate a massive tomato hornworm feeding on a tomato plant and vomited more than it should be possible for a dog to vomit.  Yea for nightshades!  A friend of mine’s LWF dog licked one of the psychedelic toads we get in Tucson and nearly died.  There’s none of that going on at my place.  Neither dog has ever encountered a toad or a rattlesnake or a scorpion.  Monkey’s too chicken to eat most insects and Cotton sleeps 21 hours a day so she misses a lot of what’s going on around her.  Yep, my dogs live a pretty sheltered life.  It’s good to be a dog in the Dragonfly Woman’s home:

Monkey on back

Cotton on back


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011

Click! Click! Click!

In the summer months in Arizona, it’s common for things to come crawling into your house to avoid the heat.  Leave a door open and your house will soon be full of mosquitoes, geckos, several types of beetles, webspinners (which are insects and NOT spiders), green lacewings, sun spiders (also not spiders), moths, maybe even the occasional bark scorpion or snake.  I happen to have a dog door that doesn’t quite close all the way due to the pressure built up by the evaporative cooler, so all kinds of insectoid creatures make their way into the house that way.  My personal favorites of the things that end up in my house are these:

click beetle

Click beetle, likely Melanotus sp.

Click beetles!  If you haven’t ever gotten to play with a click beetle (and let’s face it – most people don’t squeal with delight and immediately put their hands on random beetles they find the way my crowd does), you’re missing out.  You might not know why they’re called click beetles either.  Rather than explaining it, take a look at this short video I took a few nights ago of a click beetle that made it’s way into my bathroom (where all click beetles seem to end up in my house).  The quality isn’t fantastic as it was taken in a poorly lit inner room at night with a hand held camera, but you’ll get the idea.  And make sure you have the sound on!  Clicking the arrow near the lower right corner and selecting 1080p after you click play will improve the image quality.

Isn’t that wild?!  And did you hear the clicks?  These beetles are called click beetles for a reason: they make clicking sounds when they do their super awesome ninja-like jumps.  Those jumps are possible due to this structure on the underside of the beetles:

clicking mechanism

Click beetle underside. The arrow points to the click mechanism. Pryophorus sp.

click mechanism side view

Click mechanism side view. Pyrophorus sp.

Every entomologist knows this much about click beetles:

1) They click
2) They jump
4) They’re flat, elongate beetles with spines on the middle section of the thorax (you can see them in the pictures)
3) Both clicking and jumping are made possible by the spine indicated by the arrow on the second thoracic segment (the middle section of the thorax) fitting into the groove on the third thoracic segment.

When I decided to write about click beetles, it occurred to me that I didn’t know exactly how this mechanism worked.  The online search was worthless as nearly every site simply copy and pasted the Wikipedia entry on click beetles, and that told me what I already knew – spine fits into groove, makes beetles jump.  Looking through my entomology books wasn’t much more helpful: spine fits into groove, makes beetles jump.  Before I dug into the literature on the subject, I decided to try one final textbook, The Insects: Structure and Function by the late, great Reg Chapman (a very lovely and brilliant British man who taught one of my first entomology classes in grad school).  The book is one of the most dense books I’ve ever read – and I read it cover to cover to prepare for my comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. – but it’s an amazing treasure trove of information about insects.  Reg’s book told me how the mechanism works.

First, the beetle arches the center of its body upward off the ground so that only part of the thorax and the tip of the abdomen are still in contact with the ground.  It then contracts the muscles around the spine.  Normally this would result in the movement of the thorax, but the spine catches on the groove so the thorax doesn’t move.  Instead, energy is stored up as the beetle continues to contract the muscle and the spine remains trapped in the groove.  Eventually, the spine slips off the groove and all of that energy is released.  The front and back ends of the beetle, the parts that were still in contact with the ground as it arched, snap upward off the ground at a high velocity.  The velocity is so great that the rest of the body is pulled up after them, launching the entire beetle into the air.  If this is hard to picture, imagine shooting a rubber band off your finger toward the ceiling.  You pull back on the rubber band with one hand while catching it on a finger of the other hand.  The rubber band represents the spine and the muscles attached to it while the finger is the groove.  Energy is built up as you stretch the rubber band further and further back, similarly to how the beetle stores up energy as it contacts the muscle around the trapped spine.  When you release the rubber band, the part you pulled back launches forward, releasing the energy stored in the rubber band and pulling the entire band off your finger in the process.  (Well, assuming you’re holding it right, otherwise it releases all that energy into your soon-to-be-painful finger instead.)  Now imagine the rubber band and finger setup inside the beetle and it should give you a pretty good picture of how this works.

So why do these beetles do this?  There are two main reasons.  This clicking-jumping behavior is likely primarily a strategy to avoid being eaten by predators.  Most things that try to eat a click beetle will think twice if the beetle launches up into their face as they try to eat it.  It’s a startle tactic: if they can distract the predator for even a moment or two they just might be able to run away.   You can see this in the video.  The beetle clicks when I (a possible predator) touch it, then it runs.  I think this anti-predator mechanism is likely very effective.  Watching one of my dogs messing with them certainly suggests that it is!  He’ll sniff the beetle, then jerk back in horror as the beetle launches itself into his nose.  He might then put a paw on it, at which point it will click again, so he’ll jerk his paw back.  He usually tries the paw thing twice before he leaves the beetle alone.  Granted, this only works so long as the other dog doesn’t see him playing with the beetle.  The smaller dog is so jealous the bigger one is getting something that she’s not that she’ll run over and eat the beetle, clicking or not, just so her brother can’t have it.  :)

But back to the beetles!  The other reason these beetles likely click is to be able to flip themselves over when they end up on their backs.  These beetles have rather wide bodies and stubby little legs, so they have a hard time getting themselves right side up again.  Clicking to the rescue!  The clicking mechanism works whether they’re right side up or upside down, so the beetle can simply click, launch itself in the air, and hope it lands on its feet.  If not, it will click again until it does.  You can see this in the video too.   The beetle easily rights itself every time I flip him over.  Pretty neat trick, don’t you think?

So now you know how and why these beetles jump.  I’ll end this post with a brief comment on variations in size and coloration in these beetles.  While most of the click beetles most people see are smallish, drab beetles, there are some amazingly beautiful click beetles in the world.  I leave you with pictures of what I think are the two most spectacular species found in Arizona.  Enjoy!

Chalcolepidius ostentus

Chalcolepidius ostentus. Not sure of a common name, but I call this one the really pretty click beetle. :)

Alaus zunianus

Alaus zunianus, the Zuni eyed elater


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2010