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Inordinate Fondness of Beetles

The Nature Conservancy of Oregon maintains the beautiful Cascade Head Preserve along the Oregon Coast. The terrain is whipped by wind and weather but is one of the last refuges of the endangered Oregon silverspot butterfly and its host plant the western blue violet. This last fall, on a warm day, my family and I hiked out to the preserve to see butterflies – but by the time we reached the Head, the weather had turned cool and foggy. No butterflies made an appearance, but the meadows were populated with cinnabar moths (Tyria jacobaeae) – an exotic species that was introduced in the 1960′s to control the invasive weed tansy ragwort. The colorful moth is quite striking in appearance.

Flying Cinnabar moth

colorful moth portrait

However, a lone beetle flying across the meadow really caught my attention. With a closer look I could see it was a burying beetle (Nicrophorus defodiens) moving from flower to flower feeding on nectar. Beetles, to me, seem like such an unlikely flying insect. Unwieldy in appearance and often with loud, clacking wing movements, it would sometimes appear that flight was an evolutionary afterthought. However beetles have inspired biologists, artists and writers for centuries.

From biologist J.B.S. Haldane’s book “What is Life?”: “The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other, for the simple reason that there are nearly 300,000 species of beetle known, and perhaps more, as compared with somewhat less than 9,000 species of birds and a little over 10,000 species of mammals. Beetles are actually more numerous than the species of any other insect order. That kind of thing is characteristic of nature.”

Flying Beetle

Flying Beetle

Flying Beetle

Note the parasitic mites visible on the beetle in the last frame

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