Look, but don't touch

August 19, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Like biologist JBS Haldane, the Lord, and field guide writer Art Evans, I have an "inordinate fondness for beetles," and while I don't have their expertise, I think I share a measure of their enthusiasm. I found this gentleman—it actually may be a gentlewoman... I'm not sure how to tell the sexes apart—on one of the exquisite birds' nests made by spent Queen Anne's Lace flowers, but, in pointing it out to the group I was leading through the Preston Nature Preserve, I suppressed my inclination to pick it up and let everyone have a look. It was a great decision on my part. This is Striped Blister Beetle, and one of the best practitioners of chemical warfare. Epicauta vittata, Art Evans tells me in his masterpiece, Beetles of Eastern North America, manufactures an "incredibly caustic chemical compound" known as cantharidin that, under stress, it secretes through its leg joints in an action called "reflex bleeding." The strategy deters would-be predators... and collectors who will, as the common name implies, suffer painful skin blisters if they pick up the beetle. Admire this one from a distance, or, at least, wear gloves.


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