I’ve always enjoyed wrestling with a project – asking questions, making observations, doing research, testing ideas – digging deeper. This temperament and habit informs my natural history study, my writing . . . my lesson plans, garden, home repairs, meals, and just about every creative undertaking that’s come my way. As an approach to life, this is deeply satisfying to me, beneficial to others, and VERY time consuming. Thus, it has become necessary to modify A Glimpse of Nature if I am to sustain this blog, meet other work responsibilities, and even get some sleep! Though I could publish less often, I firmly believe that frequent engagement is the best way to learn about nature. So, henceforth, there will be weeks when I will simply feature a recent image and a hint of background. Some of these images will be mine and some can be yours!
Beginning in August, the first post of each month will be devoted to “What Is it!”, a column based on reader photo submissions. Email your local nature photo to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will attempt to identify the subject and offer some relevant info. By sharing these experiences, we’ll all develop a better understanding of our local environment. To demonstrate the process, this week’s topic is based on my coworker Kim’s recent observation and the image I captured.
“What Is It!”
Kim’s Discovery, July 13, 2022
The evening crew was heading to their cars last Wednesday, when Kim waved me over to see an interesting insect. It was no ordinary bug! At an inch and three quarters, this animal commanded attention. Its “shell”, which consisted of two hardened forewings called elytra, placed it in the beetle order. This hardly narrowed things down, given that 30,000 beetle species have been identified in North America. Yet, its sheer size and long antennae reduced the list of possibilities. A little investigation led to its identification as a broad-necked root borer, one of the long-horned beetles.
A closer look reveals small pits in its elytra and several blunt “teeth” along the edges of the pronotum, that is, the top of the beetle’s prothorax. These features help distinguish this species from other long-horned beetles. Based on the relative length of its antennae, I would venture that this is a female. Males are smaller than females but have much longer antennae.
We found the insect moving amongst sparse grass in the same general area that the painted turtle had visited. Indeed, this root borer may have had the same motivation as the turtle: nesting. It was dusk – a good time to observe these nocturnal insects. On summer nights, the enormous, flightless females lay their eggs in soil or under leaf litter. When their eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the roots of trees and shrubs until, several years later, they pupate. The adults who emerge in summer spend the remainder of their lives focused on reproduction. Scaffolds Fruit Journal (a publication of Cornell University) states that the adult “females live for only 1—2 weeks.” As with the dragonflies, the life stage that humans notice constitutes a short phase in the insect’s life. Most of their time is spent as root-boring grubs who are hidden from our view.
The next “What Is It!” column will be on Friday, August 5. To participate, submit a clear photo of any local organism that catches your attention, one that you would like to identify. A final tip: don’t overlook or underestimate “the ordinary.”