I wrote last time about bug-hunting using a blacklight. It works very well, but sometimes it’s better to use other people’s lights. In this case, I’m referring to gas station and parking lot lamps, which are significantly brighter than anything I could put together. The beetle in question was Dynastes granti, the Western Hercules Beetle, and possible the largest beetle in the United States.
These beetles are found at higher elevations in Arizona and a few surrounding states, and are most easily found by checking lights in towns surrounded by oak forest.
These tend to be parking lot lights or gas station lights, but I know of people using tennis courts and sport fields as well. The picture above shows the standard way of collecting. No fancy equipment needed. You just pick them up and plop them in a container.
This is a female beetle. Females get slightly heavier than the males, but tend to be shorter because they lack the long headgear that makes the males so attractive. Their shells are unique, with markings that vary between individuals. If they get wet, they turn solid dark brown, but then revert back to tan with speckles as they dry.
The males have a set of “jaws” on their heads. In fact, the true jaws are tiny and hidden under the head. These beetles live off tree sap and rotting fruit, so they don’t have strong chompers and are actually quite harmless. The lower “jaw” of the headgear is a horn on the very top of the head. The prothorax, which is the body segment between the head and the thorax (covered by the wing casing), has the top horn. By raising and lowering the head relative to the prothorax, the Dynastes can open and close them like jaws.
Quite harmless to humans, but the beetles use them to wrestle for mates. The males will lock their horns together and try to pin or flip each other. They are strong enough to lift one another over their heads if they can get a good hold. The advantage is usually to the largest male, but since it’s a very formalized way of competing no one is risking serious injury. The loser has lost some pride, a chance to mate, and valuable calories that must be replaced before he can compete again, so there’s a lot at stake.
We found some other critters as well. This is a tarantula that was crossing the road when we found it. Other adventures were also had during our two-day collection trip, not least being the time I forgot to seal one of the boxes of beetles, and my girlfriend found them hiding in our sleeping bags and pillows.
In the end, I collected about twenty beetles, most of which are going in our living collection at work. Dynastes are great for education because they are so large, quite beautiful as far as beetles go, and harmless to people. They tend to do a good job of changing the way people think about insects. They live 4-6 months as adults, so we can show them through the fall and into winter.
A note on conservation: These beetles are quite common across their range, but it’s still better not to take more than you need. Some people collect them professionally, and gather thousands of beetles in a good year. For classrooms or personal collections, a handful of beetles should suffice. I met a fair number of parents and teachers collecting for their classrooms. As with any collecting, don’t take more than you can use. Don’t Waste.
~The Homesteading Hippy