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A Beetle Hunt in Axton

Zorochros melsheimeri
Zorochros melsheimeri (Horn), a minuscule and seldom seen click beetle that occurs in northeastern United States south to Virginia. © 2019, Curt Harden, used with permission.

Entomologist Dr. Art Evans shares his latest adventure in the field with VPM producer Steve Clark. Accompanied by Kal Ivanov and Curt Harden of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, Art visited a small stream crossing near Axton, Virginia to look for beetles. Art describes a collecting technique known as washing that Curt employed to flush beetles from their hiding places along the sandy shore that resulted in the discovery of a very small and rare click beetle, Zorochros melscheimeri (Horn).

SC:  I'm Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is What’s Bugging You.  Been out looking for beetles again, I hear.

AE:  That's right.  This is a year for beetle chasing for me.

SC:  What did you chase this time?

AE:  About 10 years ago Richard Hoffman at the Virginia Museum of Natural History collected several beetles on flowers near Axton, Virginia, sort of nestled in between Martinsville and Danville.  For years I've wanted to go to that spot and find those beetles myself.  Their relatives are found in western North America, and I've collected all of those, so I have sort of a feel for what they do and how they live, and I wanted to see if I could catch some and photograph them, etc..  Finally, I had my opportunity and went out there with my friends, Curt Harden and Kal Ivanov.  We stopped at the little stream crossing and waited, and we waited some more, and then the sun disappeared.  These beetles like plenty of sun, so we waited some more.

SC:  So did you bring a fishing rod?

AE:  (laughing) That's why I never got into fishing; I like catching.  To cut to the chase, we didn't find the beetles.  It wasn't for a lack of looking, but we started looking for other things while we were whiling away the time.  And Kurt is interested in groups of beetles that I don't know much about, and it was really interesting to spend time with him and watch him employee different techniques.  And one of his techniques was to splash water on the shore.  They call it washing.  You just splash water up on the shore of the stream and whatever little creatures are living in the interstitial spaces, the little nooks and crannies between the sand and gravel, they'll come running up to the surface.  I've written about this, I know about this technique, but I've never used it.  I've never seen anybody do it.  And I was fascinated by all the beetles that were coming up to the surface and running around.  Two of the beetles that he found were click beetles.

SC:  I love them.  They're my favorites.

AE:  Yeah, they land on their backs, and then they snap up in the air with an audible click, and with luck they’ll land on their feet and off they go.  So we collected two different species of click beetles.  His eyes are much better than mine.  He said, “Oh, here's one with four spots on it.”  Well, I looked at it, and I could see that it's probably about two millimeters long.  That's all I could see.  So last night I put them under the microscope, and I couldn't place that four-spotted click beetle right away, so I started getting excited about it, and I ran it through an identification key, and it turns out that it's a species that is incredibly rare.  It is known from Virginia, and nothing is known about its biology.  Yet we've revealed one little mystery of where they're found.  Apparently they live in those little spaces amongst the gravel along little creeks and streams.

SC:  Well, you keep this up, you may yet find a green click beetle.

AE:  I might, wouldn't that be nice?  I still remember, you know, I was walking here to the station, and I was looking at the woods and I kept thinking to myself, “I wonder if there's any of those green click beetles out there that Steve found all those years ago sitting on the wall, and took a picture of and then that's the last we ever saw it.”

SC:  Oh, good luck.

AE:  Thank you.

SC:  And congratulations.

AE:  Yeah, well, you just never know what you're going to find.

SC:  Dr. Art Evans is a research associate at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.  You’ll find photos, audio, and links to the museum and Art’s Facebook page at vpm.org/bugs.

Dr. Arthur V. Evans teams up with VPM Radio producer Steve Clark for a weekly feature, “What’s Bugging You?,” which airs during NPR’s Morning Edition. The program takes its name from another of Evans’ books “What’s Bugging You – A Fond Look at the Animals We Love to Hate.”

Tune in each Tuesday at 8:45 a.m. or at 5:44 p.m. on VPM News