It’s not like I captured an Eyed Click Beetle just for the sake of showing it off to school children. The creature came to me. It was under my camera bag in the passenger side seat of the car. When I lifted the bag and saw a pair of pseudo eyes starring up at me from the seat, I assumed it was a gift from God. One does not take God-gifts lightly, so I took the creature and started to give it the naturalist’s once over (which means “looking, lensing, and liberating” – the three “L’s” that imply close observation, photography or hand lens work, and eventual release.)
I decided to waylay the last “L” step (muttering “what the “L”) when I realized that this thing would be a great show ‘n’ tell item for the multiple “Going Buggy” Kindergarten programs that were on my docket for the upcoming week. It was large and would perform on cue. That decision turned out to be 2/3rds of a good one, but I believe my next action might have strained my relation with God a bit. I looked at the car seat, where the camera bag had been, to see if there was a stack of hundred dollar bills that I might have overlooked. It was worth a try, but in retrospect I believe Moses got into trouble when he struck that rock a second time.
The Eyed Click Beetle is the largest member of the click tribe in the region. It is a large, nearly tropical sized, beetle which spends most of it’s time in the vicinity of rotten wood. All other click beetles are only around a ½ inch or so in length while this one is closer to an 1 1/2 long. The two large dark eye spots on the thorax are the features responsible for the name. The rest of the creature blends into its chosen background fairly well, but you can imagine how those “eyes” would take an attacking bird aback upon initial contact. The real eyes are rather small and located in the usual spot near the base of the antennas.
Not one to rely solely upon trickery, however, this beetle will take action in order to thwart any attacker. It will instinctively draw in all appendages and begin to “click.” The action not only produces a loud snapping sound (frightening enough to a bird brain) but it often propels the beetle into the air like a tiddly-wink. Because the insect is encased in a hard shiny exoskeleton, those snapping moves also make it difficult to hold onto. You can watch this on the video here.
The clicking mechanism consists of a stout projection that extends from the bottom of the thorax onto a grooved shelf located between the second set of legs. When the beetle arches back, the end of the projection is forcibly pulled out of the groove and snaps down. About the only way I can explain it would be to have you put the tips of your middle finger and thumb together, stand on a stool, and pull the edge of your middle fingernail over that of your thumbnail. The resulting click will not only sound just like that made by the Eyed click Beetle but it will also give you an impression of how it feels. The stool standing part? Well, that is actually un-necessary but it sure made you look silly didn’t it!
As I mentioned earlier, I did bring this fantastic insect for my “Going Buggy” presentations. I had to do three in a row and the beetle performed admirably for the first two. I know from the looks in the eyes of the Kindergarteners before me that they were delighted (a live insect is so much more entertaining than one with a pin through its back). They could hear the click and watch it at the same time. I was smugly convinced that these little ones were learning a valuable lesson and that I – the educator – was doing my job to show them how accessible and interesting nature can be.
The third presentation started out as well as the first two but it appeared that the beetle was getting wise to my intentions. It locked into a planking position and slid about on the hard plastic bottom of the container as I tried to pick it up. In the process I managed to position one of my pointer fingers over the creature’s head and it bit me.
Now, mind you, this is a fairly large and powerful insect, so when that beetle clamped down and grabbed a piece of my skin it did so in a vice-grip manner. All this happened with my back to the crowd. I figured that I could pull it off and resume things normally. The bite didn’t exactly hurt, but my attempts to pull the creature off were futile. I do believe that a piece of my fingertip would have been ripped off in the process. So, seeing that there was no recourse, I simply turned around and presented the beetle to the kids as it hung down from my finger.
Their reaction wasn’t quite what I expected as they recoiled at the thought that this thing was biting me. I assured them that it didn’t hurt, but still they backed away as I walked closer. The end came when the beetle finally released its grip and fell into the palm of my other hand. A rich red bead of blood appeared at the bite site before I could cover it up. The children screamed and a few stood up and prepared to dash for the comfort of their parents in the back of the room. I calmed them down, told them it didn’t hurt, and continued with the “clicking” part of the show. But, it was too late. Instead of fascination, they all looked at the creature in horror – it not only ate humans but made a scary sound as well.
Unfortunately, I ended up releasing 30 small children from that classroom who will probably be scarred for life. They will end up being exterminators. I liberated the beetle without malice and returned it to God’s tender care. I had paid for looking twice under that camera case.