An unexpected insect discovery in my own backyard

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

Would you be surprised to see some creature that looks like it came from Africa or South America or Asia in suburban Michigan?  I was shocked the other week to see a huge, red beetle on my backyard door screen late at night.
Photo taken by me in June 2014.

This beetle just looked like it must be an escaped pet, or hitched a ride on someone who just came back from a tropical vacation or field work.   It was huge, and look at those horns!   I did a little Googling, and found out that the reddish-brown stag beetle (yes, that is its name, and it is very descriptive) is native to the Eastern U.S. and Canada!  They live in deciduous forests and nearby areas, and breed in decaying logs and stumps (I didn’t think I had any of these in my yard, hence I was even more surprised).  Larvae live for two years in decaying wood, exist as a pupae in the soil, and then become adults like this one.  One reason I saw it at night is that it is attracted to lights at night!

If you thought they must use those horns for defense, you are right.  Male staghorn beetles fight for mates with their mandibles, so those things that look like horns are really just mouthparts that tear, cut, crush and chew.

Here’s a fun fact:  In Japan, beetle enthusiasts will raise stag beetles and stage fights between the males!

Maybe if you are lucky, you will see one on your porch at night, too.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucanus_capreolus

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.