We live in the Age of Beetles

There are a few essential books in existence without which no true Californian’s library is complete.

One such volume is the all new “Introduction to California Beetles” by Arthur V. Evans and James M. Hogue (2004, University of California Press, Berkeley, $14.95, 299 Pages).

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With this easy-to-use guide, you’ll no longer look like a complete doofus when you can’t readily identify the six-legged visitor who’s dropped, unannounced, into your beer at the company picnic. Instead, you’ll wow your companions when you glance into your mug and proclaim “Imagine that – a Spotted Dung Beetle. You hardly ever see them around here, and very few of them are known to drink beer.

“California is beetle country – more than 8,000 species call the Golden State their home – and being unfamiliar with these varied and industrious organisms who share our state is tantamount to not being able to tell a redwood tree from an oleander bush.

California beetles are everywhere, all the time, and their lifestyles are at least as interesting as Michael Jackson’s on any given afternoon.

As Evans and Hogue put it “We live in the Age of Beetles.”

(OK, OK, so the boys got a little carried away. Cut ’em some slack – cataloging 8,000 or so species of beetles is hard work.)

Armed with “Introduction to California Beetles,” you’ll be able to expound endlessly on the habits of the zany but purposeful Whirligig Beetle (Gyrinidae) and thrill to the defensive strategy of the Head-Standing Stink Beetle (Eleodes).

The latter arthropod defends itself by standing on its head and discharging noxious chemical compounds from its behind to drive away potential enemies.

(Beetles aren’t the only creatures who use this defensive strategy. I once knew a biker down in Barstow nicknamed “Thud” who utilized a very similar technique to protect himself. He could clear a barroom in less than three minutes whenever he was feeling particularly threatened.)

Even more remarkable is the Bombardier Beetle. According to Evans and Hogue, these beetles are living chemical warfare factories.

“Bombardier Beetles store the components of their arsenal in separate chambers. When attacked, the hydroquinoners, hydrogen peroxide, peroxidases and catalases are injected into a third chamber. The resultant synergistic reaction explodes out of the body with an audible pop, producing a small yet potent cloud of acrid spray that is literally at the boiling point,” write Evans and Hogue.

(Kind of makes the old California mountain lion seem sort of benign, doesn’t it?).

And Bombardier Beetles are only a small part of this remarkable volume. You’ll also get to know everything you ever wanted to know about the Confused Flour Beetle, the Red-Legged Ham Beetle and the Enigmatic Scarab Beetle.

Ever wondered exactly what differentiates the Pleasing Fungus Beetle from the Handsome Fungus Beetle? Wonder no more, amigos, all the answers are waiting for you in “Introduction to California Beetles.”

Originally published May 16, 2004

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