It’s hot and humid here, but it is Mississippi so it’s not like I expected anything different. I’ve had some neat encounters with a nice sized hawk moth, some great looking Polistes wasps, and of course all the “normal” insects I deal with for work. But what has captured my attention and been rolling around my brain has been the variegated mud-loving beetle (family Heteroceridae). Just the name has a cadence to it like listening to a great piece of music.
These little beauties are found all over the world, but there are only about 250 species and just 40 species are native to the US. Despite the “variegated” part of their name, some species are a plain brown while others exhibit the patchy yellow and brown coloration. On initially seeing on, they can look a bit like a scarab beetle. Unlike scarabs they have these stubby little antennae that look like two fat fingers coming out of their head. What really sets them apart is the two front legs. With enlarged and flattened tibias that have long, comb-like teeth along the margin, they look like fiercely armored warriors ready to tear into their enemies. They are also covered by a layer of fine hairs that are thought to be hydrophobic, keeping them dry and possibly with a layer of air when they get submerged.
As the name suggests these insects are shore dwelling creatures. They burrow into the mud and sandy soil around streams, ponds, and for some species intertidal flats. Those front legs are used for digging galleries in the mud and they can form small colonies though they are not considered social insect. Some species apparently have a stridulatory mechanism on the abdomen that they rub the hind tibia against. This is more pronounced in males and suspected to be used for attracting a mate. Surprisingly, I was only able to find one reference that said they “probably feed on organic particles in the soil”.
So there you have it, a Mississippi minute of magical variegated mud-loving beetles. Feel free to spread the entomological awesomeness, you know someone who likes playing in the mud right?