Friday, August 18, 2017

Say's Caterpillar Hunter

Recently at one of our pole lights this large black beetle was scurrying along the ground in frantic movements as if on mission to find something, but as if it had no idea what. Either that or it was drunk. These beetles are large, devilishly fast and difficult to photograph.

Like their common name Caterpillar Hunter suggests they are fond of eating caterpillars, but will also eat other insects when available. Because of their preference for caterpillars they are certainly to be considered a friend to farmers, gardeners, and anyone else that grows food which is fed upon by various munching caterpillars. Two of their favorite caterpillars are the gypsy moth and army worm offspring! Talk about free beneficial insect control!!

The Say's Caterpillar Hunter (Calosoma sayi) also goes by the name of the Black Caterpillar Hunter, for obvious reasons. Their body is overall black, and somewhat shiny, although there is bluish-green margins which is not always visible upon first glance. The elytra (wings) have a rows of reddish (or sometimes green) colored dots down them. They may reach lengths over an inch, but appear much bigger because of their long legs and fast movements.

They are more common in the Southern and Eastern United States, but may be found throughout most of the Country.

Look for them near crop fields, beaches, and in disturbed areas under stones, leaf litter, and wood piles, where they hide out during the day. They become active at dusk and search for food all night. They are especially active at dawn before hiding away during the day.

After mating, the female will lay eggs in the soil where the grubs will feed on beetle larvae. Once they emerge as adults they may live up to 3 years, which is especially long lived for a beetle.

 I noticed when I handled this one it gave off a somewhat offensive odor. I am assuming this is a defensive response to being bothered. Many animals, including insects give off a musky smell that tastes bad to would-be predators. To a beetle, even one this large, I must have looked like a massive predator because he released a mega amount of foul, odoriferous musk that had me releasing him quickly and me washing my hands as soon as I could. I would assume  if you harassed one too much it could give a pretty good pinch with those sizeable mandibles, fortunately I did not find out.

While this species may look scary and intimidating, that is not a good reason to kill it. Instead try learning about the critters that share your yard and garden and you may find they are unlikely friends. Often unbeknownst to us while they are going about their daily activities they are helping your garden be more productive and healthy.

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