Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 27, 2007

June Bug Possums

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:12 pm

  I would not suggest keeping a June Bug as a pet. They play with your mind and evoke feelings of guilt. Even if your intentions were harmless –such as temporary confinement for observation purposes – the result is disappointment, boredom, and a sense of uneasiness.  

  Knowing this, I suffered a memory lapse the other day, and picked up a June Bug (actually a beetle, not a bug) that was bumbling his way across my driveway. It was newly emerged from the ground so every feature was brand new. The hard wing covers (elytra) were as polished as a freshly waxed Jaguar (the car, not the animal). Actually June Bugs look more like SUV’s in profile, but there was something sporty about this one.  I wanted to examine him more closely, so I imprisoned him in a Mason jar and set it aside for later.

  That night I peered into the jar and found my charge lying on his back with all six legs pointing up into the air. It did not respond to a tap on the glass. He rolled around stiffly as I tilted the jar and it dropped into my open palm with all the signs of full rigormortus. An hour in a jar should not be enough to kill anything, but the facts appeared clear enough. I was responsible for silencing a new born life.

  It was possible that this one had a deep psychological fear of Mason jars and couldn’t handle the situation. Or, maybe the reality of a June bug coming out in May was a bit too much to handle.

  Then one of the legs twitched.

  Perhaps it only stunned itself against the glass while flying around, or something. It slowly revived into full life and I gently returned it to the jar. This time I added an assortment of leaf food to tide him over.  The next morning, it was “dead” again.

  There in my palm, I was able to assess his hairy little chest (the thorax is finely covered with a hair-like coating), and the powerful pair of front digging legs. The latter feature is common to all members of the Scarabaeid family, by the way. There are over 5,000 species of Scarab Beetles in the world (1,300 in North America) and all have the robust “forearms” equipped with formidable prongs. My charge is a species called a Brown June Beetle – an upside-down and silent Brown June Beetle.

  The Sacred Scarab of Egypt is probably the best known of the bunch. The familiar form of this scarab is found throughout Egyptian iconography as a representation of Khepri – the god of the rising sun. According to legend, Nut – the goddess of the sky – swallows the sun every night and gives birth to a new sun (that’s “sun” not “son”) every morning. The new sun is rolled over the horizon by Khepri (you don’t have to take my word for it). In real life, the Sacred Scarab is a dung rolling beetle that pushes around little balls of camel poo.  This poo ball behavior reminded the Egyptians of Khepri’s dawn duty and thus the godly designation.

  Thanks to this mythic connection, scarabs have also taken on the symbolism of renewal and re-birth over the years. The fact that they magically emerge from the ground, after spending several years as a fleshy white grub, added to this resurrection quality.

  True to this prophecy, my “dead” scarab twitched back to life after a little prodding.  Perhaps it actually resurrected itself? It was a bit strange that this was happening just as the great golden poo ball was rising in the eastern sky.

  All of this was a bit unnerving, but things were coming back to me now.  In my experience, captive June Beetles play possum all the time! I’ve tried to use them for my school group presentations, but they don’t show well. An apparently dead beetle rattling around inside a jar doesn’t elicit a whole lot of wonder.  They won’t resurrect until grabbed and squeezed into action. Obviously this is not an animal with pet qualities (although it can do one trick really well).

  After four days of such pseudo-death performances, things were getting quite boring. It was time to let him go. Poured out onto my hand, it maintained the death pose. This time I grabbed him firmly between my thumb and forefinger and looked him straight in the eye. “I know you’re not dead,” I said.  “You’ve driven your point home and you are now free to go.” For a brief moment I contemplated testing out a report that June Bugs taste like “crudley made cane syrup” when cooked, but passed on the idea.

  In response to my statement, the beetle wiggled to life and issued a bubble of brown spittle from its mouth. June Beetles can apparently blow raspberries. I placed him on the ground and he plodded away at the same pace as when I found him. 


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