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Eyed Click Beetles

EYED CLICK BEETLES – TUESDAY, AUGUST 22, STEVE CLARK – Entomologist Dr. Art Evans and 88.9 WCVE producer Steve Clark discuss the natural history of eyed click beetles.

SC: I’m Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is What’s Bugging You. I used to see eyed click beetles when I was a kid. And I’ve only seen one as an adult, and that was when I was working on my house. And we established that it was probably drawn to my house because of certain solvents that were being used to paint.

AE: Oh yeah, mmm hmm, sure.

SC: All of a sudden several of my Facebook friends have turned up with photographs of eastern eyed click beetles.

AE: This is the high season for click beetles. They’re out flying around, the adults and larvae, are predators of wood-boring beetles. This past winter when our friend, Anna Holden, was visiting us, we were peeling back bark and several localities have found lots of larvae of eyed click beetles. They’re very conspicuous. They’re these great big yellowish-brown wire worms, as they call them.

SC: Do they have eyes?

AE: Not the larvae, they do not. But we have two species of eyed click beetles. There’s the one that you’re talking about which is associated with pines, and then there’s another species where the eye spots on the adult aren’t that conspicuous, and they’re associated more with oaks and other hard woods. The eye spots on eyed click beetles are thought to discourage predators by making the click beetles look more formidable than they really are, but some researchers dispute that.

SC: I would think it’s to attract humans. (laughing)

AE: They’re really impressive animals. I can still remember the very first one I saw when I moved to Richmond. I was wandering around with my camera at Bryan Park, and I saw this downed log and from a distance I could see the eye spots. And it wasn’t doing anything. It was just sitting there, but that was really exciting. We have them in the west, but they’re not nearly as impressive, and there are some really interesting ones, one interesting species that lives in the southwest. You find them in Arizona occasionally, and I had never photographed one until just a few years ago. I got a nice shot of one.

SC: Are they all in the kind of black and white speckled range or . . . ?

AE: Yes, there is one down in Florida and the Caribbean that is very dull. The spots are very inconspicuous. It’s more brown, very different looking than the others in the genus Alaus, but the rest of them have conspicuous spots. Our species here in the east is probably the best known and has the widest distribution in the U.S. of all of them. The genus Alaus used to be considered worldwide, but click beetle experts eventually established that it’s strictly a new world genus, and so they’re found throughout the new world. You find the species down in South America as well.

SC: I know that all click beetles click. What’s the mechanical process?

AE: Well, if you look underneath a click beetle’s body there’s a little spine on their midsection that barely fits inside a groove on the opposing side of their thorax. When they’re lying on their backs, they’re pushing their head forward, and that spine eventually snaps into place in that groove with an audible click, and that sudden release of energy flips them up into the air, presumably out of harm’s way. They may have to click several times before they can land on their feet and run away. And it’s really impressive when you hold an eyed click beetle, if you hold them carefully by the lower portion of their body, you can see their fore-body snapping back and forth, and it makes a very loud click.

SC: Well, I’ve had them click right out of my hand.

AE: Oh, they’re great. Some people know them as skipjacks too.

SC: Dr. Art Evans is the author of Beetles of Eastern North America. You’ll find photos, audio, and a link to Art’s Facebook page at ideastations.org/radio/bugs.

Photo: Alaus oculatus (Linnaeus) (Coleoptera: Elateridae)