Images Courtesy Dr. Kaae

This is by far the largest order of insects; it contains over 40% of all known insect species. Most entomologists think there are over 3 million undescribed species of beetles. Assuming this to be true and excluding other arthropods, there are over three times as many beetle species as all other species of plants and animals combined. Beetles vary in length from nearly microscopic to over 8 inches. One of the most distinctive features of the beetles is the front pair of wings (elytra) that are hardened or leathery and which meet in a straight line down the back of the abdomen. These structures are strictly protective and not used in flight. When a beetle begins to fly, the elytra are parted, exposing the second pair of unfolding flight wings.

Left. Guitar Beetle-Approximately 3 Inches in Length. Image Dr. Kaae. Right Image Showing Elytra (first pair of wings) of Beetle in Flight Courtesy Peter Chew.

Beetles possess chewing-type mouthparts. The mandibles are very large, heavily sclerotized, and used for gnawing and crushing. Very large beetles are capable of delivering a nasty bite. I once acquired several rather large stag beetles from Indonesia. At the time of purchase the dealer indicated we should be very careful. He explained that when a stag beetle bites, it is very painful and difficult to pry one’s body parts from the beetle’s mandibles. He further indicated that one way to remove a clamped stag beetle was to apply heat (a match to the abdomen). Within a week of my return home one of these beasts had clamped onto my finger and the match trick worked well. Because I had already sent 2 of the beetles to one of the prominent U.S. insect zoos, I decided I should warn them of this potential hazard. During my call, the director indicated that one of the technicians currently had her hand in the freezer in the attempt to freeze a stag beetle off her thumb-too late!

Male Indonesian Stag Beetles with Greatly Enlarged Mandibles. The Males Use These Structures to Fight over Females. Images . Kaae.

Ladybugs, Ladybird Beetles. The ladybugs are a well-known group of oval, brightly colored beetles with clubbed antennae. Almost all are predaceous in both the adult and larval forms and the majority is host specific. Consequently, ladybugs are considered to be one of the more useful predators in biological control. Many ladybug species feed on aphids, but others attack mites, mealybugs, scale insects and whiteflies. One ladybug can eat 5000 aphids in its lifetime. This is why at times they have been called "aphid lions."

Convergent Ladybird Beetle. This beetle is one of the most notorious species. Adults of this species commonly are sold by nurseries, department stores, and home and garden centers. Homeowners buy and release them in their yards for aphid control. Although this species can control aphids quite effectively in nature, the practice of mass-releasing the convergent ladybird beetle for aphid control is generally considered worthless.

The Larval Stage of a Convergent Ladybird Beetle. Image Dr. Kaae.

The reasoning behind this statement is associated with the seasonal cycle of this beetle. In the valleys of Southern California and other areas, adult and larval beetles commonly feed on aphids in the spring. As the season progresses and the aphid population begins to disappear, the behavior of these beetles change drastically. In late fall the adult beetles fly to an elevation of about 5000 feet and follow the winds to the mountain passes. Soon after arrival, the adult beetles enter into a condition called reproductive diapause. While in this stage, the beetles congregate into huge clusters (sometimes many thousands per cluster) and hang on rocks and trees. In diapause, the physiology of the beetle slows down. They do not feed or reproduce but are capable of movement when prevailing temperatures are above 50 degrees F. This condition allows the beetles to survive the winter without food and in freezing conditions. In early spring they emerge from diapause and fly back to the valleys to lay eggs and resume their feeding on aphids.

Overwintering Convergent Ladybug Adults. Image Courtesy Drobincorvette Creative Commons BY PA 3.0 Unported.

The main environmental factor that triggers these beetles into and out of diapause is day length. On a yearly cycle, this is the only consistent factor in their environment. On a given date at any time of the year, the amount of daylight and darkness is always consistent.  Prevailing temperature on any given day of the year is inconsistent and very unreliable as a diapause triggering factor. If this environmental condition was used, it could be disastrous to the beetles. A few hot days in December could trigger the beetles out of diapauses and result in their flying back to the valleys where few, if any, aphids would be present.

Unfortunately, the beetles that are sold commercially are collected from the mountain passes and sold in the spring while they are still in diapause. So of course they do not feed or reproduce. Even if they are released in a yard and then emerge from diapause, they would follow their natural instinct and fly away.  Typically when purchased directions include releasing the beetles at night in order for them to settle down. Of course the real reason is probably that they do not want the homeowner to see the beetles fly away. A homeowner might be fooled into thinking he or she has a hard working bunch of ladybugs after such a release because a few individuals still remain in the yard. However, these probably are members of the small percentage which have been parasitized by wasps. These unfortunate beetles never develop normally—they can't fly or feed and they do not reproduce. The winter-collected beetles can be artificially triggered out of diapause by exposing them to the photoperiod (amount of day light vs. darkness) normally present during the springtime. Even when this is done, apparently the beetles still require an extended flight period prior to settling down to feed and reproduce.

A considerable amount of research has been conducted in the attempt to prevent the need for this flight period. Scientists have turned the beetles in large tumblers over long time periods, attempting to simulate flight. They have even tried gluing the elytra together to prevent this flight. Nothing has been successful.

Vedalia Beetle. The use of another ladybug, the vedalia beetle (Rodolia cardinalis), is one of the first examples in the United States of how humans can use predators to successfully control a pest species. The cottony cushion scale was accidentally introduced into California on acacia imported from Australia. Once introduced into California, it became a major pest on citrus. Soon after its introduction, this scale threatened the existence of the emerging industry in California. During this period (1888-1889), there were no effective pesticides available for the control of this pest.

Vedalia Beetle Consuming a Cottony Cushion Scale Nymph. Image Compliments Charles Hogue, L. A. County Natural History Museum.

Entomologists from the USDA, realizing that this scale was not a pest in Australia and suspected that its non-pest status there probably was due to the presence of effective biological control agents (insects eating and controlling other insects). Based on this premise, a team of scientists was sent to Australia to search for predators and parasites of this scale. Several were found but the most important was the vedalia beetle.  This beetle was subsequently introduced into California and reduced the scale to a non-pest level within a two year period. Since that time, the cottony cushion scale rarely, if ever, becomes a pest due to the ever-present activity of this ladybug. This introduction was the first of many successful programs where biological control agents have been introduced into the United States from other countries following the accidental introduction of foreign pests.

Scarab Beetles. This is a very large group of beetles that differs greatly in size, color and shape. The scarabs are heavy-bodied, oval shaped with lamellate antennae.

Two of the More Beautiful Scarab Beetles. Images Dr. Kaae.

Rhinoceros Beetles. These beetles are a common group of scarabs and among the largest known Coleoptera (some South American species reaching several inches in length. These beetles are so named because the males bear horn-like projections on their heads. One or more horns may also be present on the thorax. When 2 males of the same species come together in the presence of a female, they frequently will fight or joust with their horns. This is part of their mating ritual.

In Thailand and other countries, rhinoceros beetles are frequently collected for the purpose of fighting. Two males are placed at each end of a 10-inch section of bamboo with a female in the hollow section of the plant. Although smaller amounts are more common, Thai people sometimes bet large amounts of money on the outcome of the males' battle. Generally the largest beetle wins by knocking its opponent off the bamboo. Fighting beetles are sold on many street corners; larger specimens can be very expensive. There is even a Fighting Beetle Festival in Northern Thailand (LamPang) in the Fall of the Year when these beetle emerge in numbers.

When we were in Northern Thailand, we bought the losers for 40 cents. (We couldn’t afford the winners!) On another recent trip, we visited Malaysia prior to going to Thailand. In Malaysia, these fighting beetles are the same species but about twice the size of their Thai relatives. I brought one of these giants to Thailand with the idea of winning a fight. When this beetle was placed on a piece of bamboo with its smaller relative, it didn’t bother trying to throw the other beetle off. It lowered its center horn and trapped the other beetle between its two opposing horns, drove the center horn through its opponent and finally shook its head violently, throwing pieces of the other beetle in all directions. In the interest of international relationships, I never bet on my beetle-didn’t seem far. The Thai people are extremely friendly.

Two Male 5-horned Rhinoceros Fighting Over a Female. Typically the Larger Beetle Will Win. Image Dr. Kaae.

The green fruit beetle is one of the best-known scarab beetles in the United States. The adults are large (about one inch long) and green, with the lateral margins fringed with yellow or bronze. There are similar species in many aeas of the world.

Adult Green Fruit Beetle. Image Dr. Kaae. Right Laval Image Courtesy Elf - Own work CC BY-SA 4.0 International

These large day flying beetles are commonly seen in summer months. Green fruit beetles feed on ripened fruit such as grapes, peaches, figs, plums and nectarines. Although their feeding habits can cause great stress to the homeowners, they are of little concern in agriculture. They are attracted only to ripe fruit. Fruit raised for agricultural purposes normally is picked green and allowed to ripen. The larval stage of this beetle, as is that of all scarabs, is a C-shaped, dirty white grub with well-developed thoracic legs and head capsule. These larvae typically are found in the soil and feed on the roots of ornamental plants and decaying vegetation. The larvae of the green fruit beetle commonly are found in compost piles, accumulated horse manure, rabbit droppings, and chicken feces. One unusual characteristic of the larvae is that when placed above ground the crawl upside down with their legs pointing upward.

Kids commonly catch the the adults and tie a long oiece of thread around one leg and fly them like a kite. I haven’t done that in  weeks.

Typically larval stages of a scarabs are found in the soil and feed on roots and other plant material.

Japanese Beetle.  This is, without a doubt, the most damaging scarab beetle in the United States. The adults are about 3/8-inch long, and broadly oval with brownish elytra. The head and thorax are greenish bronze. For some reason some people think they are Japanese beetles. Obviously, they look nothing like them.

 An Adult Japanese Beetle. One of the Major Pests in the Eastern U.S. Image Dr. Kaae.

This beetle was imported accidentally into New Jersey in 1861. Subsequently it has spread to most states east of the Mississippi River. Both the adults and larvae are extremely damaging to a wide variety of plants. The larvae feed on roots of grasses (turf) and other plants, while the adults skeletonize leaves and feed on fruit.

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Japanese Beetles Skeletonizing Leaves. Image Courtesy D. Gordon E. Robertson. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Japanese beetle is such a major pest in the eastern United States, that several western states have rather extensive programs to prevent the accidental introduction of this pest. Commercial air flights (both cargo and passenger) that come to California and other western states from the east are checked during the summer months for adult beetles. Traps baited with pheromone-like chemicals that are attractive to adults are placed around the state in the hope that should this beetle become established in an isolated location, its presence would quickly be discovered. Control procedures could then be installed to eradicate the pest before it became established over a wide area.

Dung Scarabs. These scarabs exhibit a unique behavior. A male and female beetle will select a likely dung pile (usually fresh), cut out a ball of the dung and roll it away with one beetle pulling while the other pushes. The ball subsequently is buried in the ground and an egg is deposited in it. Subsequently the hatching larvae feed on the buried feces. Some adult species also consume dung. Yum, Yum!

Male and Female Elephant Dung Scarabs Rolling a Dung Ball. Image Dr. Kaae.

This behavior is considered beneficial because dung scarabs in most areas of the world are the first insects to attack and start break down process of wild and domestic animals feces.. Without this initial burrowing, dung is not readily eaten or decomposed by fungi, bacteria or other animals.

Australia is a country where the importance of dung beetles was recently demonstrated; cattle have become one of the three major industries there. As most people know (possibly not!), when a cow defecates the result is a rather large, moist pile of feces (known as a cow pie to some). The only naturally occurring mammals (other than humans) in Australia are marsupials; marsupial dung is rather dry and pellet-like; consequently, there were no native dung scarabs attracted to the cow pies. Much of the range land became covered by dried cow feces over time and large tough weeds of no grazing value developed around the perimeter of each pile.

The Australian government, being quite biologically control oriented, decided to import several species of dung scarabs for dung control. This initial importation was quite successful as these imported dung scarabs readily destroyed newly formed cow pies. However, a separate problem developed when a moth became a pest on wheat. Australian officials decided to import toads to control the wheat pest. Unfortunately, the toads were attracted to the dung scarabs, as well as the moths. When a cow defecated, the toads would scurry over to sit next to the cow pies and wait for the dung scarabs’ arrival. Soon most of the imported scarabs were consumed.

Two of Many Dung Scarab Species. Top Image Dr. Kaae.  Bottom. One Scarab with 2 Dung Balls. Image Courtesy Sripathiharsha CC BY-SA 3.0.

Next, the officials decided to import a larger species of dung scarab with the idea that the toads wouldn't eat such large insects. Where do you go to find large dung scarabs-Africa   When an elephant defecates!-anyway a large species of African elephant dung scarab was introduced. Unfortunately, the toads attempted to eat these scarabs also; but large beetles are quite strong and after being swallowed, the scarabs simply ripped open the toads' stomachs and crawled out—thus killing most of them. The latter situation was not a totally bad development. The imported toad was the cane toad. This toad has become a major problem in several countries as it has extremely toxic poisons in its skin that it readily exudes when disturbed. As a result, there have been many cases of poisoning of domestic animals and humans.

 A 2 Inch Giant African Dung Scarab. Image Dr. Kaae.

Scarabs and Culture. Scarab beetles were important in many ancient cultures and loomed high as religious symbols. So called "pendants" in the shape of beetles are known from the late Paleolithic epoch (10,000 to 20,000 years ago). It is thought that beetles played this role partially because of their ability to fly and their importance as food. Shamans (medicine men) historically played extremely important roles in these societies and had great power. They were thought to be able to fly in the sky (in dreams and trances) and descend to subterranean hells to act as mediators between mortals and the "infernal powers." With such power being held in high esteem, it is quite apparent how a beetle such as a dung scarab could become an important religious symbol, as they also could fly and dig into the earth.

In current day shamanistic societies, the scarab still plays an important role. In some South American Indian tribes, a big dung scarab named Aksak was thought to have modeled man and woman out of clay. In a more remarkable Indian myth, an aquatic beetle plunges to the bottom of the original liquid chaos to scoop up subterranean matter to form the terrestrial earth. This original beetle was thought to be a cross between an aquatic diving beetle and dung scarab.

The dung scarab played its most famous role in ancient Egyptian culture. It was thought that a giant dung scarab was responsible for rolling the sun across the sky each day. This conclusion was based on the Egyptian priest-scholars' observation of the daily activity of the dung scarab, Kheper aegyptiorium. They thought the scarab ball was something like the beetle’s eggs. They further observed that the scarab buried the dung-egg ball in the soil, which turned into worm-like creatures (larvae), eventually turning into a dead corpse-like form (pupae)—only to be reborn again as a beetle. They further concluded that what happened to the sun was not that much different than the scarab’s metamorphosis. After the giant scarab buried the sun at the end of the day (setting of the sun), the sun traveled underground from west to east, going through a metamorphosis which resulted in rebirth from a corpse like stage as the sun rose.

 Kheper aeqyptorium, the Sacred Scarab of Ancient Egypt. Image Dr. Kaae.

The priest further concluded that if the lowly dung scarab and the glorious sun could go through a metamorphosis and eventually be reborn from a corpse-like stage, why could this not be possible for humans? The recipe for rebirth then was to imitate, as closely as possible, what happens to the scarab once it enters the ground. Most crucial was the last stage (the pupa) which inspired the invention of the process of mummification. In all probability the mummy is nothing more than an imitation of a scarab pupa.

As mentioned earlier, Kheper aegyptiorium is the sacred scarab. Khepera is what Egyptians called scarabs. They were so honored as gods representing regeneration, virility and new life, that many of the kings (pharaohs) took Khepera as part of their own names. King Tut (Tutankhamun), for example, used the name of Neb Kheperu Ra. This was his "official" name. Sometimes a certain king's name would be inscribed on the back of many scarab amulets (in his honor). Some of these would be worn for hundreds of years after the king's death.

Giant Rhinoceros Beetles (Scarabs) of the World. These are some of the most sought after beetles by those who have insect collections and also contain some of the largest insect in the world.

Atlas beetle, Chalcosoma atlas.  This beetle is commonly found in southern Asia, especially Indonesia. The male is larger than the female and usually two males will fight over a female for mating. The Atlas beetle is, like other beetles of the genus Chalcosoma, notable for its size and the horns. The Atlas beetle differs from other Chalcosoma species by the shape of the cephalic horn which is anteriorly broadened.

The larval stage of this beetle is known for its fierce behavior, including biting if touched. Unverified reports exist of larvae that live together fighting to the death if there's not enough space or food. In addition the adults can give a nasty bite.  They also have a sharp ridge between the top of the thorax and base of the elytra.  I once caught a rather large specimen and made the mistake of handling it carelessly.  Needless to say it took a hunk out of my finger and in a hurry I grabbed it unfortunately in the ridge area.  It arched it thorax and took another chunk of of my hand.  Of course needless to say in trying to remove it from my now bloody hand and it grabbed me with its sharp tarsal claws and strong legs (these guys are very strong) and proceeded to rake my arm as I pulled it off.

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Adult of Atlas Beetle. Image Courtesy Mike Dickison  CC BY-SA 3.0

Elephant Beetles, Megasoma elephas. Elephant beetles are shiny black or brown in color and covered with a coat of fine hairs which particularly thick on the beetle's elytra. They give the beetle's body a yellowish color. Males have two horns protruding from the head and another from the prothorax. Females have no horns. The horns are used for defense in competition among males for food and mates. In size, Elephant Beetles range between 70-120 mm; males are sometimes even bigger. Males are around 2 to 3 times bigger than the females. Elephant Beetles are located in southern Texas, southern Mexico, Central America, in South American rain forests, and in parts of Australia.

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Elephant Beetle. Image Courtsey Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) GNU Free Documentation 1.2

Hercules Beetle (Dynastes hercules).  This is the most famous and largest of the rhinoceros beetle. It is native to the rain forests of Mexico, Central and South America). Their title is well deserved, with some (exceptionally rare) males reaching 6.75 inches in length. It is the largest of the 6 species in the Dynastes genus, and one of the largest beetles known, being exceeded in length by only two other beetles in the family Cerambycidae, Marodontia cevricornis (specimens almost 7 inches in length are known) and Titanus giganteus (several seven inch specimens are reputed/alleged to exist).

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Hercules Beetle.  Image Courtesy of Didier Descouens CC BY-SA 4.0 International

The Hercules beetle is said to be the strongest creature on earth for its size, able to carry 850 times its own body weight.

As noted above, Hercules beetles are highly sexually dimorphic, with the females generally being larger-bodied but much shorter, as they lack horns entirely. The development of the larval stage of the Hercules beetle will last one to two years, with the larva growing up to 4.5 inches  in length and weighing up to 120 grams. Much of the life of the larva is spent tunneling through its primary food source of rotting wood. 

Dermestid, Skin, or Carpet Beetles. These beetles are about 1/8 inch long, oval and typically have a mottled coloration on the elytra and thorax. A close inspection will reveal scale-like structures covering these areas. The larval stage of these insects is easily recognized by their very hairy appearance. The larvae can be quite destructive as they feed on a variety of materials including dead insects, woolen garments, other clothing, furs and museum specimens. These insects do far more damage to these types of material than the more commonly known clothing moths. And they are well known in entomological circles as the nemesis of insect collections. There are several different species verbasci MHNT Fronton Side view.jpg

Left. Typical Larval Carpet Beetle Characterized by a Hairy Appearance. Public Domain.  Right. Adult.  Image Courtesy of Didier Descouens

CC BY-SA 4.0 International

Insect Collection Destroyed by Carpet Beetles. Image Dr. Kaae.

Damage.  The larvae of A. verbasci is a common household pest. Adult females typically deposit their eggs in a variety of location including air ducts, closets, under furniture, or under baseboards. Once hatched the larvae hide in dark, undisturbed locations and feed on a variety of organic material and as a result are responsible for the damage of various items, such as furniture, clothing, blankets, furs, and carpets. It is not uncommon to find them in musical instruments which have been stored for long periods of time here they feed on pads and felts frequently found in woodwind instruments. Insect collections are especially vulnerable.  Infestations can be prevented by frequent vacuuming, dry cleaning or airing clothing outside, using moth balls in insect collections and removing abandoned bird and insect nests attached to the building. Indication of an infestation of these insects include the presence of damaged articles, the presence molted larval cast skins in dark areas, and an abundance of adult beetles near windows. Exposure to the shed larval hairs from these insects may result in irritated itchy welts that may be confused with bites form bedbugs or other biting insects. Control of this species can be accomplished using insecticides, oxygen deprivation, freezing, and pheromones and scent traps.

Regular cleaning of spilled food or lint will typically reduce the possibility of any sites becoming a breeding location. Susceptible items like food, woolens, and furs should be stored in an insect proof container. If an infestation is suspected then the source of the problem must be removed and destroyed to further limit any possibility of spreading. These beetles can be killed with extreme heat or exposure to freezers.

Pyrethroid insecticides can be used to control carpet beetles. Examples are products containing active ingredients such as permethrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin, tralomethrin.  Diatomaceous earth is also effective.

Forensic Entomology. Dermestid beetles are significant tools that are used in the field of forensic entomology. Some species are used in identify the age of carcasses (dead bodies) which help with criminal investigations. Also some species are pests and can cause millions of dollars in damage to natural fibers in homes and to major businesses. They are used in taxidermy and natural history museums to clean animal skeletons. They can also be used to detect the presence of certain drugs.

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Dermestid Beetle Larvae Used to Clean Human Skull.  Image Courtesy Sklmsta CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Forensic Entomology. The hide beetles, various species of flies and other insects are currently used in investigations to estimate time interval since death in potential homicide cases. These type of questions can frequently be answered based the predicable arrival of D. maculatus to carrion. Adult hide beetles generally arrive 5 to 11 days after death.  In order to refine this somewhat wide range, recent research has refined arthropod succession studies. These studies are applied to estimate the arrival of various species of Dermestid and Calliphorid flies (plus others) after death. All insects are temperature dependent, and the optimal temperature for development of D. maculatus is 30˚C. Development data is normalized using accumulated day degrees.  

Entomotoxicology. Entomotoxicology is the based on the presence of a variety of toxins in insects (mainly flies and beetles) that feed on carrion. When these arthropods feed on a corpse or at a crime scene, a forensic entomologist can determine if such chemicals were present in a body at the time of death.  This is a major advance in forensics.  Previously analysis of this type was especially difficult in situations of severely decomposed bodies that lack intoxicated tissue and bodily fluids.  The effects of toxins on insect development have also provided better analysis of intervals after death.

Drugs can produce a variety of effects on the rate of development of arthropods. Dangerous and in many cases illegal drugs such as morphine, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine are commonly involved in cases where forensic entomology is or use.. An altered stage in an insect’s development can frequently indicate toxins in the carrion on which the insects are or have been feeding. Beetles and their feces are often used in entomotoxicology. It is worthwhile to note the presence of toxins is often the result of the beetles’ feeding on fly larvae that have been in turn feeding on the carrion containing toxic materials. Various species of flies are the most commonly used insects in entomotoxicology.

For example, with flesh fly larvae, barbiturates reportedly increase the length of the larval stage development and consequently increase in the time to reach pupation.  On the other hand, it was initially believed that morphine and heroin slowed down the rate of fly development.  However, later studies indicate that it actually speeds up larval growth and subsequently decreases the length of pupal development and maturation. The end result is an increase length of development from egg to adult. Cocaine and methamphetamine also accelerate the rate of fly development.

Some effects are dependent on the quantity of the toxin while others merely depend on its mere presence. As an example, cocaine (at a lethal dose) results in larvae to developing more rapidly, 36 to 76 hours after hatching.  The rate of growth depends on the concentration of of the toxin in the area on which it fed. The amount of methamphetamine, on the other hand, affects the rate of pupal development. A lethal dose of this drug increases larval development through approximately the first two days and afterwards the rate drops if exposure remains at the median lethal dosage. The presence of methamphetamine was also found to cause a decrease in the maximum length of the larvae.

In some cases these techniques can even be used to determine of origin of a corpse. There was the case of a young woman found severely decomposed in Inco, Finland. Diptera larvae recovered from the body were reared to adulthood and found to contain low levels of mercury, indicating that the woman came from an area of comparatively low mercury pollution. This assumption was proven correct once the woman was identified and found to have been a student in Turku, Finland. This case demonstrated the ability of toxicological analysis to help determine origin.  This case applied Nuorteva’s research involving mercury and its effect on maggots. Through experimentation, it was determined that maggots (fed on fish containing mercury) possessed levels of mercury in their tissue of even greater concentration than in the tissue of the fish. Nuorteva also discovered that the presence of mercury in the maggots systems hindered their ability to enter into the pupal stage.

Not only are tissues taken from maggots used to detect toxins, insect exuvia and  feces have also been used to determine and identify toxins that are present in dead bodies. A mummified corpse of a middle-aged lady was found in her home. Prescription bottles were found with labels identifying the indicated drugs: ampicillin, doxycyline, Elavil,  Lomotil,  pentazocine, Ceclor, erythromycin and Tylenol 3.  A toxicological analysis was conducted on her stomach contents and dried sections of brain and lethal levels of amitriptyline and nortriptyline were found. Insect feces, shed pupal cases of Megaselia scalaris (fly, Phoridae), and shed larval skins of Dermestes maculates were collected from the corpse.  These were sent to an FBI lab which broke down the complex structures of the samples using strong acids and bases and freed the toxins for analysis. The cast pupal cases and larval skins were also found to contain amitriptyline and nortriptyline. Larger concentrations were discovered in the pupal cases because phorid flies prefer to feed on softer tissues. The hide beetle larval skins revealed lower concentrations of the drugs because these beetles prefer to feed on dry, mummified bodies. The use of pupal cases and larval skins allows for investigators to detect toxins in a body years after death.

Weevils or Snout Beetles. This is a huge group of insects with more than 2000 species in the United States alone. Weevils are characterized by the extension of the head into an elongated snout, which can be longer than the rest of the head. Chewing mouthparts are located at the tip of this snout, allowing them to feed on internal parts of plants. The larval stages of weevils are internal borers of all parts of plants including fruit, seeds, stems and roots


Top/Left. Thai Weevil Measuring over 3-inches in Length. Image Dr. Kaae. Top/.Right. Courtesy James Niland - Flickr: Giant Weevil .  Bottom. Giraffe Weevil. Image Courtesy Axel Strauß CC BY-SA 3.0

Boll Weevil. The boll weevil is the most important agriculture pest in the United States. At one time, it was estimated that 1/3 of the agricultural insecticides used in the U. S. were used on this pest. The boll weevil feeds only on cotton and is found in the Cotton Belt from Arizona eastward. This species does not occur in California, but the California Department of Agriculture has an extensive program (similar to the one designed for the Japanese beetle elsewhere) for monitoring any initial infestation of this pest.

Boll Weevil on a Cotton Boll. Image Courtesy ARS-Scott Bauer. Public Domain.

Fireflies. These are soft-bodied beetles in which the head is not visible when viewed from a dorsal angle. During the spring and summer months, these insects are quite conspicuous due to their blinking yellow lights. There are small members of this group California, but these are not capable of producing light. The light-producing species are rather common in many areas of the world and in the southern and eastern United States. The light emitted by these insects is unique because 100% of the energy produced is in the form of light. (In a light bulb, only about 10% of the energy produced is in the form of light, while the rest is heat.) The light is emitted from a gland located on the underside of the abdomen and is produced by the oxidation of luciferin when in the presence of an enzyme called luciferase. The gland is richly supplied with tracheal breathing tubes and the beetle has the ability to supply oxygen to the gland when it needs to produce light.

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Firefly. Top Image Courtesy Bruce Marlin - Own work CC BY-SA 2.0.  BottomThirty Minute Time Lapse. Image Courtesy Quit007 CC BY-SA 3.0.

Each species has its own flashing pattern, with variations occurring in the flash length and intervals between flashes.  The blinking is a form of sexual communication within a species. At twilight the males of most species fly low over the ground and begin to flash. While sitting on the ground or in vegetation, receptive females of the same species begin to flash back thus drawing the males for mating.  Apparently the duration between when the male initially flashes and when the female flashes back is more important in opposite sexes of the same species.

In a few species, large numbers of males will gather in one bush and flash in unison. This draws both sexes for mating. This phenomenon has also been observed is some of the "eyed" click beetles and is similar to the behavior of some of the long-horned grasshoppers or cicadas that sing in unison to draw mates. This cooperative behavior intensifies the signal, which can be carried over longer distances than can the signal of individual insects.

There is one species of predatory firefly where the female of one species mimics the blinking pattern of females of a smaller species. In this case, the responding males of the smaller species become a meal rather than becoming a mate. The significance of these females feeding on males of another species goes beyond a mere meal. Many species of fireflies contain a chemical that makes them distasteful to predators including the smaller firefly species discussed above. This chemical does not naturally occur in the predatory species of firefly.  However, testing indicates that some of the females of this species do contain varying amount of the chemical but none of the male do.  Of course the answer is that these females are obtaining this chemical through their diet (other fireflies) and this certainly is to their advantage to avoid being eaten by other predators. Then the question arises how about the males of the predatory fireflies.  In a given insect species the survival rate of the female is more important than that of the males.  Male insects are generally capable of mating on a daily basis while the female tends to mate less and of course produce and deposit their eggs. So one male can mate with many females and it probably does not hurt the overall specie if some of the males are eaten. Also with the predatory females the chemical than is acquired through her diet is also passed onto her eggs which of course are to the benefit of the species.

Blister Beetles. These beetles are known for their defensive secretion of a blistering chemical called cantharidin. There are close to 7,500 known species worldwide. Many are quite conspicuous and are aposematic or having warning coloration that announce their toxicity to would-be predators.  Cantharidin is a poisonous chemical causing blistering of the skin. It is used medically to remove warts and is collected for this purpose from species of the genera Mylabris and Lytta, especially Lytta vesicatoria, better known as "Spanish fly".  The Spanish fly contains up to 5% cantharidin which irritates animal tissues. The crushed powder of Spanish fly is of yellowish brown to brown-olive color with iridescent reflections, a disagreeable scent and bitter flavor.

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 Typical Blister Beetles Illustrating Deflexed Head, Narrow Thorax and Elongated Body. Image Courtesy of Muhammad Mahdi Karim Gnu Free Documentation 1.2.


The Spanish Fly Beetle.  Image Courtesy Franco Christophe. CC BY-SA 2.5.

Spanish fly is frequently given to farm animals to stimulate them to mate. This chemical when excreted in the urine, irritates the urethral passages and creates inflammation in the genitalia and subsequent sustained erection. For this reason, Spanish fly has been given to humans for purposes of seduction; they help men keep a longer erection. This is dangerous since the quantity required is minuscule and the difference between the effective and the harmful dose is quite narrow. Use of these chemicals can produce painful urination, fever, and on occasion bloody discharge. Most importantly their use can result permanent damage to the kidneys and genitals.

Medical use of this chemical dates back to descriptions from Hippocrates. Plasters made from elytra of blister beetles have been used to raise blisters. In primitive China, blister beetles were mixed with human excrement, arsenic and wolfs bane to produce the world's first recorded stink bomb.

It is also one of the world’s most well-known aphrodisiacs:

Livia, the scheming wife of Caesar, put cantharadin into food in attempts of seducing her guests with which she could later blackmail them.

Henry IV consumed Spanish fly at the risk of his health.

In the 1670s, this chemical was mixed with dried moles and bat's blood to produce a love potent made by the magician La Voisin.

The Marquis de Sade is claimed to have given aniseed-flavored pastilles that were laced with Spanish fly to prostitutes at an orgy in 1772.

In Medicine & Podiatry, it is used as a topical application for treatment of benign epithelial growths including most warts.

Cantharides are illegal in the United States, except for use in animal husbandry and by licensed physicians for the topical treatment of certain types of warts. Some Internet or mail order suppliers of sex stimulants advertise such products like "Herbal Spanish fly", "Mexican Spanish Fly", or "Spanish Fly Potion". Most of these products are simply cayenne pepper in capsules, sometimes blended with the powder of ginseng, kelp, ginger or gotu kola. The products with the name "Spanische Fliege (Spanish fly)" that are available in Germany represent no danger since they are diluted to the point where they contain no trace of the active substance, as they are homeopathic remedies.

Blister beetles are both destructive and beneficial.  In most cases the adults are phytophagus feeding on a variety of crops including legumes, beets, potatoes, ornamental flowers, tomatoes and others.  The larval stages, depending on the species, are predatory mainly on either grasshopper egg pods in the soil or attack the young of wild bees.  Some consider them as parasitoids but they exhibit characteristics of both predators and parasitoids.

These insect exhibits hyper metamorphosis, a type of complete metamorphosis.  In the case of hyper metamorphosis, the larval stage not only increases in size, but unlike insects with standard complete metamorphosis, it changes form with progressive molts.  These changes are associated with their mode of life.  The first instar larva is called a triungulin and is silver fish-like in appearance.  This form actively seeks out grasshopper egg pods in the soil or in the case of those forms that feed on wild bees may sit and wait on flower heads for these pollinators.  In the latter cases, once available it attaches to the bee’s hair and is carried back to the nest.  Once reaching the nest or egg pod the larvae become more grub-like and eventually legless with progressive molts-at this point all the food necessary for development is provided and legs are no longer needed.  Those forms that feed on egg pods are quite beneficial in controlling these pests.  One larva is capable of consuming a whole pod (30 eggs) during its development.  Those forms that feed on wild bee larvae could be considered destructive because the insects are valuable pollinators.

Ground Beetles.  This is one of the largest families of beetles with 20,000 species worldwide and over 2,500 species in North America.  They are very active, long legged, nocturnal beetles that typically are found under rocks and debris during the day. They are mostly black in color with large eyes and forward projecting sickle-shaped mandibles. Many have parallel lines of pits (striations) running the length of the elytra. Almost all members of this family are predatory in both the adult and larval stages and some are important natural enemies of slugs, snails and insect pests.

Exotic Appearing Ground Beetles. Image Dr. Kaae.

Bombardier Beetles. A number of ground beetles have well-developed defensive secretions. Most have paired pygidial glands in the lower back of the abdomen that produce noxious or even caustic secretions used to deter would-be predators. In some, commonly known as bombardier beetles, these secretions are mixed with volatile compounds and are ejected by small combustions, producing loud popping sounds and a cloud of hot and acrid gas which can injure small mammals and kill vertebrate predators. To humans, getting "bombed" by a bombardier beetle is a decidedly unpleasant experience. The "bombing" ability has evolved independently twice as it seems – in the flanged bombardier beetles which are among the most ancient ground beetles. Other groups of ground beetles mechanically squirt their defensive secretions for considerable distances and are able to aim with a startling degree of accuracy; in Afrikaans they are known as oogpisters ("eye-pissers"). In one of the very few known cases of a vertebrate mimicking an arthropod, juvenile Heliobolus lugubris lizards are colored similar to the aposematic oogpister beetles, and move in a way that makes them look surprisingly similar to the insects at a casual glance.

 BBC: The Bombardier Beetle

Bombardier Beetle on the Attack.

It is sometimes suggested that Charles Darwin found himself on the receiving end of a bombardier beetle's defenses on a collecting trip in 1828, but this is based on a misreading of his autobiography; a bombardier beetles' "bombing" is already triggered by picking it up, and Darwin had been carrying the beetle in question in his closed hand for some time already before he ran afoul of its secretions. He discussed this incident and another such case in a letter to Leonard Jenyns as follows: "A Cychrus rostratus once squirted into my eye & gave me extreme pain; & I must tell you what happened to me on the banks of the Cam in my early entomological days; under a piece of bark I found 2 carabi (I forget which) & caught one in each hand, when lo & behold I saw a sacred Panagæus crux major; I could not bear to give up either of my Carabi, & to lose Panagæus was out of the question, So that in despair I gently seized one of the carabi between my teeth, when to my unspeakable disgust & pain the little inconsiderate beast squirted his acid down my throat & I lost both Carab i& Panagæus!"

Darkling Beetles.  Members of this family are commonly confused with the ground beetles.  This is because most members of both families are common, fairly large and typically brown or black in color. The easiest way to distinguish one from another is by the speed at which they move.  Since ground beetles are predatory they are fast moving.  On the other hand, darkling beetles feed on plants, stored products or decaying plant material and are slow moving.  You don’t have to be very fast to run down a dead leaf.

Some members of this family are commonly referred to as stinkbugs or stink beetles.  If disturbed, these beetles will characteristically stand on their head with their abdomen pointing straight up in the air and produce a strong smelling defensive secretion.  They remain motionless in this position until no longer threatened.  They are primarily active at dusk or dawn.  This may seem counter-productive to survival as this is also the time that most insect feeding predators are active.  However, these predators quickly learn that these beetles are a foul tasting mouthful and quickly learn to totally avoid them.

These defensive chemicals are effective against ants, rodents and birds. As might be expected there is always the exception.  In this case it is the grasshopper mouse. When this predator comes across one of these beetles it merely grabs the beetle and forces its abdomen into the sand until all the chemicals are harmlessly released into the soil. Once completed the mouse consumes everything except the tip of the abdomen where the chemical producing glands are located.

There are a number of other similarly appearing beetles that also practice “head standing” but do not release the defensive chemicals. Of course the predators that have learned to avoid the stink beetles also avoid these-a good example of Batesian mimicry. 

Iron clad beetles are apparently fungus feeders as adults and associated with rotting wood, and as the common name implies, have one of the hardest of all arthropod exoskeletons; in some species, it is almost impossible to drive an insect pin through their bodies without using a small drill to make a hole first. They can be stepped on with any harm. Some species in Mexico are decorated with costume jewelry glued to their bodies, and sold as living brooches, known as ma'kech, to be worn on one's clothes. They are very long-lived as adults and when not used as jewelry they can be kept on wet bark to maintain their maximum length of survival.

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Left.  Common Iron Clad Beetle Found in California.  Image Dr. Kaae. Right. Mexican Species with Attached Jewels. Image Courtesy of Kugamazog~commonswiki CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0

Some species of darkling beetles will play dead when disturbed.  They fall down and become very rigid often with legs extended. They will remain in this position for several minutes. Apparently this is a defensive behavior in order to avoid a potential predator.  Many predators recognize their prey by movement.


Typical Defensive Position of Some of the Oo-called Stinkbugs, a Group of Darkling Beetles. Image Dr. Kaae.

Mealworms. Probably the best known of all the darkling beetles is the yellow mealworm. The adult of this beetle  is the largest (around 0.3 in.) of the stored product and grain pests, but is better known in the pet trade as the larvae are a source of food for any of a variety of lizards, fish and arthropods.  In some cases they are added to bird feeders, particularly during the nesting season when birds are raising their young and appreciate a ready food supply. Mealworms are high in protein, which makes them especially useful as a human food source. They are also commonly used for fishing bait.

They can be purchased at most pet stores and bait shops. They are also available via mail order and via internet suppliers (by the thousand). Mealworms are typically sold in a container with bran or oatmeal for food. When rearing mealworms, commercial growers incorporate a juvenile hormone into the feeding process to keep the mealworm in the larval stage and achieve an abnormal length of 2 cm or greater.

Tenebrio molitor is also used for biological research. It's relatively large size, ease of rearing and handling, and status as a non-model organism make it an attractive organism for proof-of-principle study. Researchers worldwide, but particularly in Sheffield (UK) and Pusan (Korea), currently use this beetle as a model system for studies in biology, biochemistry, evolution, immunology and physiology.

Mealworms may be easily raised on fresh oats, whole wheat bran or grain, with sliced potato or carrots and little pieces of apple as a water source. They have been incorporated into tequila flavored novelty candies. However, mealworms are not traditionally served in tequila or mezcal drinks, the latter sometimes containing a larval moth (Hypopta agavis).

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Life Cycle of the Yellow Mealworm. Image Courtesy of Jim Kalisch, Nebraska University Entomology.

Superworms-Zophobas morio. The larvae of this darkling beetle are known as superworm or zophobas. They are commonly sold in pet stores as a food source for lizards, tarantulas and a variety of other animals. These large insect larvae are similar in appearance to the better known mealworms.  The larvae will not pupate if kept in a container with many other larvae, where they receive constant bodily contact. Keeping superworms this way is commonly used to hinder pupation.

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Superworm. Image Courtesy of  André Karwath aka Aka CC BY-SA 2.5

Namib Desert Beetle. This amazing beetle is found in one of the driest area of the world. It only receives about a half inch of rain annually. It sounds like Southern California recently. This darkling beetle has developed a unique technique to survive by obtaining water from early morning fogs. It gathers water by the means of its own bumpy back surface, which provides for accumulation of water droplets of fifteen to twenty micrometers in diameter.

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Namib Desert Beetle. Image Courtesy of Hans Hillewaert CC BY-SA 3.0.

To drink water, the Namib beetle (genus Stenocara) stands on a small ridge of sand. Facing into the breeze, with its body angled at forty-five degrees; the beetle catches fog droplets on its hardened wings (elytra). Its head faces upwind, and its stiff, bumpy outer wings are spread against the damp breeze. Minute water droplets from the fog gather on its wings; the droplets stick to hydrophilic bumps, which are surrounded by waxy, hydrophobic troughs. Droplets accumulate and coalesce until their combined weight overcomes the water's electrostatic attraction to the bumps as well as any opposing force of the wind; in a ten-mile-an-hour breeze, such a droplet would stick to the wing until it grows to roughly two-tenths of an inch in diameter; at that point it would roll down the beetle's back to its mouth parts.

The water droplets in that occur in fog are only 1/1,000 inch across.  Some of the larger droplets are only twice that size. These are so small that they often don't fall downward; instead they are carried sideways or even upwards due to currents of wind. The trick to drinking fog is getting the droplets to aggregate, so that wind and electrostatic forces no longer overwhelm gravity. When a wind-blown fog droplet lands on a hydrophilic (water-loving) surface, such as clean glass or stone, the drop flattens out because of the electrostatic attraction between the molecules of water and those of the surface. The cross section of the flat drop is too small for the wind to pick it back up. And, because water molecules so strongly attract each other, the flat drop also presents a highly hydrophilic surface to which other droplets can cling.

Longhorned Beetles.  As this name implies, most but not all adults have elongated antennae, which in some cases can be as long as or longer than the entire length of the body.  Most have an elongated cylindrical shaped body.

Longhorned Beetles Illustrating Elongated Antennae and Cylindrical Bodies. Images Dr. Kaae.

The larval stage is a legless club-shaped grub and typically is found boring in the trunks and branches of dead or dying trees. Since the larvae are very common and typically large, plump and meaty, they are commonly eaten by humans in many parts of the world. I frequently talk about people eating insects in some of the classes that I teach.  So one quarter after spending some time in the course on how eating insects is no big thing one of the students brought a log containing several longhorned beetle larvae to the final.  It was placed on the table in front of the class and written on the blackboard in large letters “Dr. Kaae Eat a Grub! They were quite large-almost 2 inches. Well I had had it-no turning back-so I dug out one of the larger grubs, threw it up in the air and caught it in my mouth, chewed and swallowed.  Actually it didn’t taste that bad-kind of nutty.  Unfortunately my wife was in the class.  Her first comment was-you ate it alive. She wouldn’t kiss me for a week-not really more like a few day. She is a bug person and understands the working of an entomologist’s mind-some of us are a little basic.

Large Club-shaped Legless Grub of a Longhorned Beetle-mm-mm Great When Barbecued. 

The eucalyptus longhorn borer, Phorocantha semipunctata. This is a serious and destructive beetle pest of eucalyptus trees. Native to Australia, it has spread to eucalyptus cultivation areas on all continents. Until recently, California's eucalyptus trees were considered virtually pest free. Two closely related species of long horned beetles (Phoracantha semipunctata & Phoracantha recurva) that attack and bore into eucalyptus trees have been introduced into California from Australia. The former was introduced into Southern California in the 1980s and rapidly became a major pest and now appears throughout the state wherever eucalyptus trees grow. Natural enemies were introduced from Australia. As a result biological control along with better cultural care of eucalyptus have gradually but eventually dramatically reduced the populations of these wood boring beetles throughout their distribution in the state.

Adult Eucalyptus Borer. Image Dr. Kaae

Bark Beetles. The bark beetles are one of, if not the most, important pests of our forest pests. Huge numbers of these beetles are attracted to trees that are weakened by drought, forest fires, diseases or merely by lack of sufficient light (under-story trees).  In these conditions, or even if a tree is merely cut, its natural defense of sap flow is greatly reduced. Trees in this condition release chemical odors that attract these beetles. In addition, once a beetle is attracted to a tree and begins to feed, it releases an aggregation pheromone that is produced in its gut. This chemical attracts other individuals of the same species, which in turn releases more pheromone and in time thousands of beetles are attracted to the weakened tree. This mass attack eventually kills the tree. This is a very effective means of finding susceptible trees.  Healthy trees do not release chemical odors that are attractive to these beetles and even if a beetle were to fly to and attack a healthy tree, it would be drowned by the sap flow prior to releasing the aggregation pheromone.

Typical Scollid or Bark Beetle. Image Dr Kaae

Bark beetles only attack trees with bark and that have enough moisture content to sustain their survival. Once male and female beetles reach a susceptible tree, they bore into the bark and form an elongated brood gallery between the inner layer of the bark and the sapwood (outer surface of tree just under the bark). Depending on the species, this gallery may be occupied by an adult male or female; in some species, the male may have a harem of 2 to 4 females.  After mating the female(s) deposits her (their) eggs on both sides and at short even intervals along the elongated brood gallery or chamber. Once the larvae hatch, they bore out from the brood gallery at a more or less right angle remaining between the bark and sapwood. Each species makes characteristic engraving patterns in this area. The width of the larval galleries increases as the larvae grow and continue to feed. These tunnels are frequently packed with their frass. Immediately prior to pupation the larvae form pupation chambers at the end of their tunnels. Once the adults emerge from the pupae, they eat their way to the outside through the bark, leaving small circular emergence holes. In heavy infestation it almost looks as though someone shot the tree with buckshot; hence another common name-the shot hole borers.


 Gallery or Tunneling System Typical of Bark Beetle Attack Including Brood Gallery and Larval Tunnels. Image Courtesy of James Solomon, USDA Forest Service. Public Domain.

Because these beetles cannot survive in seasoned wood, or even in trees that have been cut for a year or more, they are not a structural pest.  However the pest control operator should be aware of their existence as the building of expensive-trendy log cabins is coming very popular, especially in mountainous areas.  It is very unlikely that these beetles would attack such an existing structure and built-in beetle infestations may cause some nuisance problems.

Due to the recent droughts, the importance of these pests has increased dramatically.

Oregon Infestations. In recent years, The Dalles area of Central Oregon has experienced below average precipitation, which has helped foster a dramatic bark beetle increase in mixed forest stands dominated with ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir and grand fir. Bark beetles have always been a major problem in pine and fir, but aerial detection surveys indicate an almost 8 fold epidemic increase in tree death in the area along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains and in associated watersheds. When these pests proliferate to that extent, it’s often an indication of poor forest health conditions due to drought and overstocked forest stands.
To remedy the situation requires diligent forest management to thin and open up dense stands of trees to prevent the spread of bark beetles and other potential pests and diseases. Research plots in Oregon have shown that thinning ponderosa pine so there is wide spacing can help protect stands from bark beetles for several decades. Remaining trees then have more water, nutrients and sunlight available to them, and their growth and vigor improves, making them more resistant to future beetle attacks.These forest management practices, which include the removal of dead and dying trees, also help prevent the buildup of dry, woody fuels that are ripe for catastrophic wildfires which kill live trees and do considerable resource damage to soils and streamside and watershed areas.

Southern California Infestations. Bark beetles are naturally occurring species in the Southern California forests. Under normal conditions they occur at low population levels, going unnoticed by humans. In recent years conditions have become favorable for bark beetle population growth, which ultimately led to the current outbreak. Several factors have led to this favorable beetle environment. First, decades of fire suppression has resulted in over-crowded forests. The dense stands of mature trees compete for limited nutrients and water, reducing the health of the stands. Second, long term exposure to air pollution, particularly ozone, has reduced the health of conifers in the forest. Excessive ozone exposure causes premature loss of pine needles, reducing the trees ability to produce food and tissues. Third, Southern California experienced many continuous years of drought. This long term water stress further reduced the health of the conifers. The combination of these factors has resulted in a forest full of unhealthy vulnerable trees and increases the possibility of fire.

The risk of fire is based on a number of factors including fuel loadings (the type and density of the fuels), fuel moisture (the moisture content of the fuels, primarily vegetation), and the fire weather outlook (air temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, wind conditions). The combination of these factors is used to determine the fire danger, which includes components for energy release (estimate of potential energy released in the active portion of the fire) and fire behavior (potential for surface fire, crown fire, or plume-dominated fire). During the summer and early fall of 2003 the risk of fire based upon all of the above factors was determined to be extremely high for the wild lands of Southern California with a high potential for large fires that would burn large tracts of land. 

The bark beetle killed trees reduce the overall fuel moisture in areas where large numbers of dead trees stand. The dead, dry trees burn faster and hotter than living trees within any given stand. Standing dead trees will burn to a crown fire. Whether or not the crown fire of a dead tree will be transferred to the surrounding living trees depends on the proximity of the live trees to the dead trees and the other conditions at the time of the fire. 

The Old Fire in the San Bernardino National Forest was initiated by arson in two locations, Old Waterman Canyon and near the community of Crestline. The efforts of the firefighters and the change in weather conditions allowed the containment of the fire before more acreage was lost. Unfortunately many, many homes were lost. Since that fire, forest fire in Sothern California is almost as yearly occurrence.

Old fire.jpg

San Bernardino Old Fire. Image Courtesy Dave Schumaker. CC BY-SA 1.0

Fanned by the Santa Ana winds, the Old Fire burned 91,281 acres (369.40 km2), destroyed 993 homes, and caused 6 deaths. The fire threatened San Bernardino and Highland, as well as the mountain resort communities of Cedar Glen, Crestline, Running Springs and Lake Arrowhead and forcing upwards of 80,000 residents to evacuate their homes. Part of California State University, San Bernardino burned during the fire.

In 2009, Rickie Lee Fowler was charged with igniting the Old Fire. Authorities charged that he was a passenger in a white van seen leaving the area where the fire started, and that Fowler was the person seen throwing a lit flare into brush by the side of the road. The driver of the van, Martin David Valdez, Jr., died of a gunshot wound in 2006. A grand jury indicted Fowler on October 19, 2009, with 1 count of arson of an inhabited structure, one count of aggravated arson, and 5 counts of murder, based on 5 residents in the burn evacuation areas who died of heart attacks. Although a sixth man also died of a heart attack after the fire was set, prosecutors were unable to directly link that death to the stress of the fire. Similarly, although the fire stripped the soil of vegetation and destabilized the slopes, no one was charged in the deaths of 14 people killed 2 months later when a mudslide ripped through a camp in Waterman Canyon.

On January 21, 2010, the San Bernardino County prosecutor announced that he would seek the death penalty. Fowler then recanted his confession, saying that he had admitted to the crime only to appease authorities so that he could be transferred to a prison closer to his mother.

In September 2011, Fowler moved to dismiss the indictment because the prosecutors had failed to present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury.In January 2012, he was reportedly discussing a plea bargain, but no plea bargain was reached and the case went to trial

The trial started July 2012 in San Bernardino. rescheduled from January, Prosecutors charged special circumstances which can bring the death penalty. On August 15, 2012, Fowler was convicted of 5 counts of murder and 2 counts of arson. On September 28, 2012, the jury returned a verdict of death. The death verdict was affirmed by the trial judge on January 28, 2013.

Northern Arizona. Several years of drought and high tree densities combined to allow pine bark beetle populations to reach outbreak levels during 2002 - 2004, killing millions of pinion and ponderosa pine trees in Arizona and New Mexico. Large areas of mortality, especially around cities of Santa Fe and Flagstaff generated much public concern as many trees died. The areas most affected are those where trees were at the lower end of their elevation range. Data from aerial surveys recorded 2.1 million acres of pinion-juniper woodland and 1.3 million acres of ponderosa pine affected in Arizona and New Mexico during the 2002 - 2004.

These insects are native to the pinion-juniper woodlands and ponderosa pine forests of the Southwest, normally attacking only a small number of diseased or weakened trees. A healthy tree is typically able to defend against a bark beetle attack by pushing the beetles out with sap. The drought has left many trees with little ability to defend against bark beetle attacks. Additionally, the high tree densities of southwestern forests have contributed to weaker trees due to competition for water and resources. The last major outbreak of these bark beetles in the southwest occurred during the 1950’s drought.

The amount of pinion and ponderosa mortality in 2004 was substantially less than in 2003, a result of the combination of slightly greater precipitation and the fact that many of the trees in the most susceptible areas have already been killed. The amount of new mortality in ponderosa pine and pinion-juniper woodlands further decreased in 2005. 

Extensive Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation and Mortality of Lodgepole Pine in Northern Colorado along the Continental Divide. Image Courtesy Ericshawwhite CC BY-SA 3.0                                                           

Click Beetles. Many young boys and some girls recognized and have played with click beetles. These insects are so named for the ability of the adults to upright themselves when turned on their backs. The junction of the first (prothorax) and second part (mesothorax) of the thorax is flexible.  On the underside, there is a large spine extending backwards from the prothorax that fits into a groove in the front part of the mesothorax . When a beetles is placed on its back it will force the prothorax downward until the spine slips out of this groove resulting in a downward springboard- like projection of the prothorax. As a result, the beetle flips up in the air. If it lands on its back, the process is repeated until it lands right side up. Of course they get their name by the clicking sound made by the spine slipping from the groove click. Click beetles also have a characteristic body shape.

The Underside of a Click Beetle, Illustrating the Spine Extending Back from the Prothorax. 

 Brightly Colored Click Beetle. Image Dr. Kaae

Although some species complete their development in one year (e.g. Conoderus), wireworms larvae usually spend three or four years in the soil, feeding on decaying vegetation and the roots of plants, and often causing damage to agricultural crops such as potato, strawberry, corn, and wheat. The  subterranean habits of wireworms, their ability to quickly locate food by following carbon dioxide gradients produced by plant material in the soil and their remarkable ability to recover from illness induced by insecticide exposure (sometimes after many months),make it hard to exterminate them once they have begun to attack a crop. Wireworms can pass easily through the soil on account of their shape and their propensity for following pre-existing burrows and can travel from plant to plant, thus injuring the roots of multiple plants within a short time. Methods for pest control include crop rotation and clearing the land of insects before sowing. Crop rotation relies on the fact that most species are host specific and long lived.  As a result when crops are rotated there is less of a chance for a destructive population to develop as they do not typically survive when attempting to feed on a non-preferred crop. Leaving land fallow and free of weed also helps in their destruction.

Just for Fun Images. Pat, My Wife Loves Weevils.

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Top. Giraffe Weevil, Courtesy Axel Sraub Axel Strauß Gnu Free Documentation. Middle Image Courtesy ggalice Free Documentation Bottom Image. Elephant Beetle. Image Courtesy Brisbane Insects

Top Image Courtesy Gilles San Martin  Flickr as Apion (Rhopalapion) longirostre CC BY-SA 2.5.   Middle Image Courtesy Peter Chew, Brisbane Insects.  Bottom Image Courtesy entomart.

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