Beetles often seem about as aimless and bumbling as a bug can be. Yet often when I stop and pay attention to what they’re doing, I’m impressed with the degree of purpose and precision in their movements (as in the click beetle anecdote I mentioned at the end of this post). So today, as I sat contemplating an unfamiliar wildflower, I took notice when a beetle came careening from nowhere and hit the ground right next to me. I turned my attention to the spot where it had landed, and I saw only a small pile of deer droppings. I gently brushed them aside, expecting to see something like this:
This is Aphodius rubripennis, one of the aphodiine dung beetles that specialize in deer droppings. But what I found instead was a much fancier dung beetle that I had never seen before:
The lack of contrast with the brown background makes it a little hard to see, but this hairy beetle sports not only a rhinoceros horn but also a sort of awning over its head. Using BugGuide’s brilliant “browse” function, I quickly navigated through the hundreds of species of scarab beetles to determine that this is a male “Scooped Scarab” (Onthophagus hecate), which the guide page suggests is something of a generalist in its food habits–it feeds on a variety of things that we wouldn’t consider food, like dung, carrion, and rotting fruit.
The rhino horn calls to mind another stylish dung beetle, the Rainbow Scarab (Phanaeus vindex).
This was one of a small gathering of rainbow scarabs I found in Florida. I have since found these here in Massachusetts. For a more impressive horn (and more impressive pictures), see these shots by David Almquist.