I think of this as my Summer of Bugs. I've always liked bugs.
But this year, I have tools to learn more about them, and I am using those tools. My favorite is Eric Eaton's and Kenn Kaufman's Field Guide to Insects of North America. There, I learned that what I've always called a Betsy Bug is a Horned Passalus (oh wonderful name!) Odontotaenius disjunctus. It's a pretty wonderful bug, I must say. There are only two species of passalid in North America; it's a mostly tropical family, with over 500 species worldwide. Shiny (Patent Leather Beetle is another colloquial name), strong (just try holding one back!) and robust, it's very beautiful and strange to watch as it feels its way around with jointed antennae. Like roaches, the passalus is sensitive to air currents, and rather shy. It's usually found in rotted wood, which it eats. But unlike termites, for instance, it lacks beneficial bacteria in its gut to digest the wood. So it eats the wood, poops, and then eats the fungus that grows on its own poop. Now what is not to love about that?
I was bitten pretty good by a Betsy Bug while playing in a Virginia sandbox at the tender age of six or so. To be fair to it, I was squishing it in my hand. I didn't mean to; I thought it was a sand clump. They don't usually bite, though. They're too busy being cool. Get this: They chew through rotted wood, making galleries where they haul around their eggs and larvae, a bit like giant ants. They live in colonies with their offspring. They pair up. And the pairs of beetles care for their larvae, feeding them chewed wood mixed with their own feces (there they go again!) They can live up to 16 months, and most of that is spent in caring for their young while the eggs hatch, larvae grow and metamorphose into pupae and then adult beetles.
I like the golden leg fringe bling. Not sure what its function may be; maybe it acts as a comb to keep wood debris off its limbs? Maybe it combs those sensitive antennae with its leg fringe? I would need to watch one for a few hours to see what it does.
This little camera shows me things I can hardly see with my own orbs. See anything interesting on the beetle's head? Yeah, me too. Mites. Little copper-colored round mites.
I noticed that this beetle (I have two individuals in these shots) was carrying mites, and it seemed to have little scooped-out areas on its head that cradled the mites just so, which got me thinking that the mites might be doing something nice for the beetle; maybe cleaning its jaws and keeping it all shiny-polished; maybe getting rid of excess food or feces; maybe singing tiny little mite songs to it as it chews away on the rotten wood. Hi ho, Hi ho, it's off to work you go! Tra la la la! Hey, if a beetle can have at least 14 different calls, mites should be able to sing.
Some of the mites found on bess bugs are found nowhere else.