Frivolous forked fungus beetles
Just for fun! Perhaps not frivolous, but I wanted some alliteration… well, frivolous in the fact that I’m a sucker for side projects that do not relate to my dissertation research.
I am collaborating with a very enthusiastic alumni of our department, who is still quite keen on collecting, observing, and learning about insects. His name is Stan and he has his own website where he uploads photos and commentary about wildlife found along the Airline Trail here in CT. I like mornings, but it takes a special sort of morning person to be out there photographing bugs and birds every day throughout the year. You can check out his website here! He also joins our weekly lab meetings and always has fun things for show-and-tell.
During his travels Stan has come across these awesome beetles, called forked fungus beetles (Bolitotherus cornutus). They are unusual, slow moving beetles which live and feed inside large mushrooms. They have some really interesting life history traits and behaviors, such as the fuzzy horns of the males, and their defensive secretions. You can learn much more about forked fungus beetles and see lots of photos on this page of Stan’s website.
Most interesting (isn’t sex always the most interesting?) are their courtship behaviors. The males appear to create a stridulatory sound by rubbing the tip of their abdomen against the top of the female’s prothorax. You can see this behavior in the following video (taken by researchers in Virginia).
So far, it appears that the actual mechanisms behind how this sound is generated, or even reasons why the males do this as part of their hours-long courtship rituals, are unknown. Since Stan had captured several fungus beetles, and I had some extra allotted SEM time for this semester, I thought it would be fun to get some beetles under the scope to see if we could get good images of the structures on the male’s abdomen and female’s prothorax – the contact points for the scraping sound.
And that is what we did! After cleaning (the beetles were covered in mites and dirt and fungus) drying, mounting, and sputtercoating we were ready to examine them. I don’t want to give anything away, but we came across some small structures that had gone unnoticed under a dissecting scope, which could potentially be involved in this strange behavior. Stan got to watch as I used the scope. As you can tell, this machine is a few years old. But it works!
And here are the fuzzy horns of the male, just because they are kind of nuts.
Our next goal is to set something up to capture our own video and sound recordings of fungus beetle courtship. No matter what it will be fun to continue working with these funny looking beetles.