Semper Fidelis - Semper Discentes

Basic Beetling

In Coleoptera on April 2, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Wouldn’t ANY woman love to receive a pair of dead dung beetles from an admirer?

Two years ago, my friend Kelby Ouchley, a retired area manager for the USF&W in Louisiana, posted a beautiful picture of a dragonfly of some sort on Facebook, complete with identification. I sent back a snide (and completely fictitious) comment–something to the effect that his identification was incorrect, since this particular bug was undoubtedly a species found only in an area 100 yards distant from the capture site.

One thing led to another, and soon Kelby had me racing about the Missouri Ozarks, short-handled net in hand, sweating and swearing, and doing my best to snag any and all odonates clumsy or stupid enough to allow a 58-year-old guy to run them down.

I spent HUGE sums on dragonfly guides and gasoline. I became (via the Internet) acquainted with some of the nation’s premier odonate specialists–guys like John Abbott at the University of Texas, Dennis Paulson at the University of Puget Sound, Ed Lam in New England, Steve Hummel in Iowa, Nick Donnelly in New York, George Harp in Arkansas.

I invested in a larger and better net, preservative chemicals and supplies, even a dissecting microscope, so that my ancient eyes could pick out some of the more obscure diagnostic characteristics.

I began posting information on my captures to John Abbott’s EXCELLENT website, Odonata Central (www.odonatacentral.org).

Then, last October, I attended the annual gathering of Missouri Master Naturalists, at a state park near Saint Louis. I was assigned to a workshop on butterflies!!! BUTTERFLIES, a subject in which I had absolutely NO interest.

The workshop leader, Kent Fothergill, however, was one of the most enthusiastic guys I’d ever met. As the workshop progressed, I realized that his name was familiar, and finally realized that he was one of the FEW fools (beside myself) who’d been collecting dragonflies in Missouri and posting the results to the Abbott site.

We became fast friends, and began corresponding regularly. As dragonflies and damselflies disappear during the winter months, he gradually eased me into looking for BEETLES, while I waited for the reappearance of my beloved odonates. Do you have ANY idea how many different types of beetles exist, just in the Missouri Ozarks? One bazillion. And you can’t find them all in just one reference source. You have to buy DOZENS.

In addition, I guess I’d figured that most beetles would be BIG guys, easily seen and identified. WRONG!!! The vast majority of the things I’m collecting are well under 10 millimeters (that’s about four-tenths of an inch!!)

After awhile, Kent sent me a homemade trap designed to trap DUNG beetles. (You might want to check out another post in this blog, “Yes, Virginia, I CAN teach you how to make a dung beetle trap!”)

Much to my wife’s disgust, I’d soon constructed twelve of the gizmos, with a slight modification, and began referring to them as “Fothergill Model B” traps. Set them out all over my twenty-acre “holler”, baited with…er…you know…DUNG. Had to do this while my wife was at work. Also had to sneak into my neighbor’s cattle pasture with a shovel and box, in order to procure bait. Had to be crisp on the outside, and fresh on the inside.  Thought it would be interesting to bait traps with a variety of baits–from cows, horses, Boston Terriers, and humans (don’t ask!!!), and see which attracted the most beetles.  (So far, cow poop is leading the pack!)

Before long, I was up to my armpits in beetles. Not just dung beetles. Ladybugs, a tiger beetle or two. Fat scarabs. Skinny ground beetles.

Before long, I was also being driven into penury by trying to buy appropriate reference books. Beetling is just as addictive as catching dragonflies, and substantially easier. There are so many more of them, and they are, for the most part, rather slower than am I.

A box arrived in the mail two weeks ago. Kent had sent me several specimens of a beautiful dung beetle, Phanaeus vindex. I don’t know if it has a common name or not. While sitting in the hospital waiting room, awaiting my wife, Amanda’s, recent minor surgery, I fell into conversation with her boss, a beautiful and charming woman.

Several days after the surgery, as Amanda prepared to return to work, I presented her with a small box, carefully wrapped, and asked her to take it to her boss, telling her that I’d promised her a small gift. When Amanda returned that afternoon, she was incredulous. “You are an IDIOT!!!  You mean to tell me that you spent two hours chitchatting with a lovely and sophisticated lady, and you were telling her about DUNG BEETLES?!?!?!?”

“Well, she seemed quite interested. We had a very nice talk.  She actually had several anecdotes about dung beetles, from her childhood.”

“THEN, you had the audacity to actually WRAP up a pair of dead dung beetles and send them to her!?!?!?”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t do that for just anybody. Did she like them?”

“Well, yes, she actually thought they were beautiful, but I was mortified.”

It’s mid-May now. The dragonflies should be back by now, but this odd Ozark spring weather hasn’t cooperated. I’ve only seen two, and they were blazing past, far too fast and too high to catch. The beetles, however, are still in abundance. I ran my Fothergill B’s the other day, and have 78 beetles, in vials of alcohol, to identify, and probably many more floating around in the traps, just waiting for me to come and get them.

If you have ANY interest whatsoever in beetles, check out the links at the lower left of my blog page. I am NOT the only Weird Bug Nerd out there.  Wonder if the zoo would let me have a bit of rhinocerous and alligator poop?

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