Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

July 23, 2008

A Stag Survivor

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:28 pm

  I found a reddish brown colored stag beetle underneath a porch light yesterday morning. It was pretty beat up – missing a few feet, suffering from a shell dent, and still dragging an extended wing tip out from under the wing covers (see another view here).  No doubt it had recently engaged in combat with a bird. Stag beetles are naturally attracted to night lights and are revealed to potential predators at dawn’s early light.  To say that this tough little creature “won” the tussle might be a stretch, but it definitely made sure that it’s predator never met up to its potential.

  A little research on the wounded veteran revealed that it was, believe it or not, called a Reddish Brown Colored Stag Beetle.  The orangish color of the upper legs (see here) and single “tooth” on the jaws are enough to put that name to this particular face.

  All stag beetles are endowed with impressive “pincers,” and this one sported a quite a pair (see above).  These are better called mandibles, but could be called horns because the translated species name means “small goat.” The beetles in this group are generally known as stag beetles because their mandibles look like stag (deer) antlers. This individual is a male. The females have much smaller jaws. As formidable as these male appendages are, they are meant more to intimidate fellow stag beetles than to deliver crushing bites. Males wrestle each other for mating sites and the honor of delivering the first pick-up lines at arriving females.  I guess you could call these wrestling matches Stag parties.

  When all the mating hoopla is done, these battling beasts feed on tree sap. Tell me that isn’t a surprising choice of fare for such a well armed warrior! 

  Now, I didn’t put this guy in my palm just to talk about his mandibles. I’d like to give you an opportunity to take a closer look at a few other features. Take those antennae, for instance (see here in this underside view).  The end segments on each antenna are flattened into platelets – structures called lamellae. Note also how the eyes wrap around to provide a downward glance (or, in this case, an upward glance). Finally, give an appreciative ogle at the wonderful texture and fit on the hard exo-skeleton plates.

  This external skeleton is better on some insects than others, but beetles definitely have the heaviest armor in the micro kingdom. There is no question that this plating defined the fine edge between life and death for this beetle. Incredibly, stags are reported to live two years as adults thanks to their sturdy casing.

  I set the survivor down in the grass and watched it limp off at a slow but steady pace. It will live to do battle another day.

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