News from the preserves, parks and backyards of Princeton, NJ. The website aims to acquaint Princetonians with our shared natural heritage and the benefits of restoring native diversity and beauty to the many preserved lands in and around Princeton.
Monday, September 30, 2019
A Buttercup Oil Beetle Plays Dead
Walking past the Veblen Cottage at Herrontown Woods, I happened to look down and saw what appeared to be a large blue ant navigating through the grass. As I stooped to take a closer look, it took a charming pose on a leaf. Turns out that kink in the antenna means it's a male.
Various google searches yielded nothing similar, until I made reference to its large blue abdomen. Turns out it is not an ant but a buttercup oil beetle (Meloe americanus), a kind of blister beetle containing oils with a toxin called cantharidin that can cause one's skin to blister.
The beetle played dead, a useful strategy in this case, as it caused us to lose interest and walk away.
Seems like every kind of insect has an interesting lifestyle. This one's larva climbs up a plant, then hangs out on flowers, waiting to catch a ride home on a bee's back where it munches on the bee's provisions and young. It can't be just any kind of bee--each kind of oil beetle must hitchhike on a particular genus or species of bee.
Not much has been written about them, but here's a fun post by a graduate student in NC who found one in her apartment.
Does a buttercup oil beetle prefer to hang out in the flowers of buttercup? Something to contemplate while tip-toeing through the buttercups around Veblen Cottage next spring.
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