Friday, August 12, 2005
I had never seen this beetle, but I found an illustration in one of my books (1) that looked promising: Osmoderma eremicola. I did a Google image search and at first thought this identification was correct, but after looking at other images and reading descriptions, I concluded that it was more likely O. scabra. I sent my image to http://www.bugguide.net, a very useful website that has photos of insects, and will also try to identify your bug. According to the expert, Jim McClarin, the beetle was indeed O. scabra. The two North American species appear to have no common name, but a related European species, O. eremita, is called the "Hermit Beetle"; it is apparently very rare in Europe.
O. scabra is about one inch long, with dark brown, rough, shiny elytra (wing covers). It moved very slowly when I picked it up, but more quickly when I put it on a large rock to photograph it. The larva feed on rotted wood in the hollows of live trees such as beech, cherry, and others. Larvae make a cell of wood fragments and saliva in which they pupate over the winter. The adults emerge in the summer. The beetles are largely nocturnal and are attracted to lights. Osmoderma means "odor of leather"(2), and O. eremita in particular is said to emit a strong odor (3). I did not detect an odor from this beetle, but I am not in the habit of sniffing insects. Scarab larvae have diverse feeding habits: some eat foliage and fungi, some eat dung, and some feed on carrion. In general, the eggs are laid in or on the material that the larvae will eat (4).
Scarab beetles have fascinated me since I was a child. My parents had a summer home in western Michigan in the town of Onekama, near Manistee. We would often drive to the shore of Lake Michigan to visit the dunes and sand beach. I remember finding very unusual beetles on the shoreline, including the "Rhinoceros beetle" (Xyloryctes jamaicensis?), a large (over one inch) scarab with a horn-like protrusion on the head. Just why they were on the shore of Lake Michigan always puzzled me, and still does!
The ancient Egyptians considered scarab (dung) beetles sacred, and images of scarabs appear on rings and other objects. "It [the sacred scarab] was taken as the symbol of immortality because it was observed to enter into the soil and later reappear as though resurrected" (4).
The author thanks Jim McClarin of Bugguide.net for his help with identification.
1. H.E. Jacques, How to Know the Beetles, Wm. C. Brown Co., Dubuque, Iowa, 1951, p. 246.
2. Frank E. Lutz, Field Book of Insects, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1948, p. 341.
3. Benjamin Harink website: www.harink.com/~benjamin/Osmodermaengl..htm.
4. Ralph B. Swain, The Insect Guide, Doubleday & Co., New York, 1948, p. 143.
Identification: The flowers are about three inches long and dangle from very long flower stalks at the top of the plant. These flowers were yellow but they can also be orange or red. They all have dark spots on the inside of the petals. The petals are not tightly curved back on themselves like the Turk's Cap lily but form more of a bell-shape. There can be as many as 20 flowers per plant. I didn't count the flowers but this one had about five still in bloom and probably another five or so that had already gone to seed. The leaves are lance-shaped, up to six inches long, and are arranged in whorls around the single stem of the plant.
Food: Many members of the lily family, liliaceae, are food plants. (Onion and asparagus are two common ones.) Native Americans used to gather and eat the buds and roots of the Canada lily. I found a reference to the Cherokee making flour from Canada lily tubers in times of famine, and giving boiled tubers to their children to "make child fleshy and fat."
Cultivation: Some nurseries offer Canada lily plants, and Garden in the Woods in Framingham sells Canada lily seeds.
References: Carol H. Woodward and H. W. Rickett, New York Botanical Garden's Field Guide to Common Wildflowers of the Northeastern United States; Wildflowers of the Southestern United States website at http://2bnthewild.com; National Wildlife Federation website at www.enature.com.
Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. What are you seeing in the woods or in your yard? Write a few notes about your observation. Send sightings, photos, or the whole column to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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