Denizens Of The Desert:
California Road Runner
Neotomas, Or Pack Rats, Of The Desert
Billy Bob-tail, The Hermit Wood Rat
Spiny Pocket Mice
Catherpes, The Canon Wren
Betsy Bounce, The Rock Wren
Round-tailed Ground Squirrel And Near Relatives
Eleodes, The Beetle That Stands On His Head
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Eleodes, The Beetle That Stands On His Head
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
ANY one who has traveled much in the region west of the Mississippi, especially in the South-western United States or Lower California, must have often seen the curiously behaved and pungent-odored pinacate beetles or tumble-bugs (Eleodes). These interesting, black-bodied, hard-shelled beetles are so prevalent in one part of Mexico that a mountain range and the whole surrounding region has taken its name from them. I refer to the Pinacate mountain country of Sonora.
The outstanding feature of interest in respect to these creatures is their habit when alarmed or disturbed of elevating their bodies and literally standing on their heads. If excited too much while on the run, they will frequently tip themselves up vertically so quickly that they tumble heels over head, often landing on their backs. They then will either feign death or turn over quickly and try to make away as hurriedly as possible - their second hurried run often ending in another somersault as ludicrous as the first. It is not surprising that the children often call them "circus bugs."
I recently spent several hours trying to find out just exactly how Eleodes, the tumblebug, rights himself so effectively and quickly when after a tumble he lands on his back. The performance is done so rapidly that it takes some patience to find out the order of procedure; but when one wants to find out movements employed in so adept a trick he cares little about time.
And now this is the way it is done. The two middle (second pair) legs are straightened out downward, thus elevating the inverted beetle off the ground. When the body is well propped up, one of the rigid legs is suddenly elbowed so that the insect quickly goes down on one side, and a rotary movement is started. A slight heave now given by the rear third foot on the opposite side sends the insect over, and away the beetle runs.
But sometimes Eleodes is not so awkward that he tumbles over, and then you see him assume the head down position and stay in that attitude for minutes at a time, so long that you would judge him weary beyond endurance. He generally waits until you go your way and then scuttles under cover.
The actions of this beetle that kicks his heels into the air are explained to the satisfaction of the Zuņi Indians in a curious little folk-tale entitled "The Coyote and the Beetle." I give it as told by Mr. Frank Cushing in his charming "Zuņi Folk-Tales":
Well, in ancient times on the pathway leading around Fat Mountain, there was one of these beetles running about in all directions in the sun-shine when a Coyote came trotting along. He pricked up his ears, lowered his nose, arched his neck, and struck out his paw toward the Beetle.
"Ha!" said he, " I shall bite you!"
The Beetle immediately struck his head down close to the ground, and, lifting his antennae, deprecatingly exclaimed, "Hold on! Hold on, friend! Wait a bit, for the love of mercy! I hear something very strange down here!"
"Humph!" cried the Coyote. "What do you hear?"
"Hush! Hush!" cried the Beetle, with his head still to the ground. " Listen!"
So the Coyote drew back and listened most attentively. By and by the Beetle lifted himself with a long sigh of relief.
"Okwe ! " exclaimed the Coyote. "What was going on?"
"The Good. Soul, save us!" exclaimed the Beetle with a shake of his head. " I have heard them saying down there that to-morrow they would chase away and thoroughly chastise everybody who de-filed the public trails of this country, and they are making ready as fast as they can!"
"Souls of my ancestors!" cried the Coyote. "I have been loitering along the trail this very morning, and have defiled it repeatedly. I'll cut!" And away he ran as fast as he could go.
The Beetle in pure exuberance of spirits turned somersaults and struck his head in the sand until it was quite turned.
Thus did the Beetle in the days of the ancients save himself from being bitten. . . . Thus shortens my story.
Though often spoken of as a bug, this insect is a true beetle. We know this because he chews his food and has hard horny wing covers. Bugs always suck their food through a long, needle-like proboscis, or beak, and they have soft wing covers. One day I became curious to know what was under the high arched wing covers of the tumblebug. A dissection revealed that a great hollow air-filled space took up most of the room, and that only a very little place was given for the abdomen. This explained to me why I had always been deceived when I attempted to judge the weight of the tumblebug by his size.
The food of these beetles is largely dried vegetation and fungi. This is true both in the larval and in the adult stages; hence I cannot see any special virtue in ending their lives by stepping on every one one sees, as is the habit with some unthinking and cruel people. The pinacate beetles, as they are often called in the
Southwestern United States and Mexico, exhibit a good deal of dexterity in eating their food. Time and time again I have seen them hold a food morsel down to the ground with one foot, much as a dog does his bone, while gnawing it. Also I have seen them take up a piece of food and run away with it when disturbed, holding it up with their two front feet as they made away.
There seems to be no place too desolate or sunscorched for these creatures to live in. On my journeys across the bleakest wind-swept sands of the deserts, where the very minimum of animal life was existent, and where few species of even the hardiest xerophytic plants eked out a miserable round of life, I have found the pinacate beetles in comparative abundance. They are exceptionally hardy creatures and even in such untoward places live to be several years old; at least this many be said of the more resistant species. Most of the species are night wanderers, but many are abroad in the scorching light of the desert days.