Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Click Beetle that Almost Broke Me

          Throughout my limited time studying and collecting beetles, I have encountered a number of species that would excite field entomologists. From Omus tiger beetles, to ant-eating scarabs, to giant Cerambycids and even rare families that are highly specific in their distributions and habitats. But I think the most memorial experience of all took place in the Mojave Desert of southwest Utah.

I was on a collecting trip around the southwest states with Dr. Shawn Clark, when we pulled over at a place Called "Leeds Creek" in Washington County. We pulled our beating sheets and nets out of the back of  the rental truck and started to wander around the area sampling every kind of plant we saw. I started examining Cacti for Moneilema gigas, but had no luck. As I was walking back to the truck with a vial full of Weevils and Leaf Beetles, I saw a large, black insect flying flying my direction in the corner of my eye. I quickly tried to turn my net around in my hand, (it was in a brush beating position), but swung short by a few inches. As I was running right behind the thing, I noticed it was a Beetle. Eventually it landed on the base of a tree branch, only problem was that this "branch" was fifteen feet off the ground. It was a Click Beetle. I can remember very vividly cranking my neck, looking up at it stunned by it's magnificence.

My mind was scrambling. Should I throw a stick at it and knock it to the ground? No, it would just fly away. Should I wait until it moves further down the tree, then collect it? No... It's going to take off soon if I don't come up with a master plan. "Shawn! I need your help!" He soon came over and was also in aw as I pointed to what my life currently revolved around. He got in the truck, and slowly drove underneath the branch where the monster was perched while I stood on the roof. I am a tall guy, over 6'5" but have an even longer wing span, about 6'6.5". I reached as high as I could with one arm toward the Clicker, slid the rim of the net underneath it's abdomen, pulled down and swung sideways. Pure extacy. It was mine.

Chalcolepidius apacheanus Casey
35 mm

As seen above, it's a pretty beetle. Catching it made for a great day and ultimately made the whole trip. I saw a couple others out, but they were so far that I couldn't chase them down. I've had a few Beetles at my finger tips before, that miraculously have escaped my forceps of doom. Nicrophorus nigrita comes readily to mind.

Utah has a great mixture of Beetles, let's be clear, but it's not exactly a paradise for collectors, typically speaking. Why? First of all there's not much moisture during the summer months. While Arizona is incredibly dry, it has a lower latitude and the monsoon season to really pull the life out of nook's and cranny's. Utah is just a little on the dry side, and when it's not, it has a layer of snow blanketing everything. I find it amazing how Beetle's can adapt.

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