The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

I love being “that person”

You know: “The Person In The Office Who Knows About Bugs And Stuff”.  People tend to bring/show/tell you about buggy, geekly goodness, which provides a welcome distraction from boring shit work.

I entered a co-worker’s office this morning to find her fretting over one of her potted plants: a lovely pale pink Amaryllis.   “I saw a bug in here,” she stated accusatorily.  “I think it’s killing my plant!”    Indeed, one of the blooming stems had sagged overnight, and a second had an inch long indentation, surrounded by bright reddish flecks, running up one side.

I peered at the plant and the soil.  I lifted the green plastic pot out of the purple ceramic one enclosing it and looked in there.  Finding nothing remotely buggish, I handed the pot back over and asked her what she saw.

“It was small, and dark, and wormy, and had little legs like this,” (she brings her hands up close to her sides and wiggles her fingers  suggestively) “but not like millipede legs.  What was it???”   Hmm.

I really didn’t know what to tell her other than “come get me if you see it again”, and suggest that (to my very un-pathology-trained eyes) the speckled dent on the stem could be a virus or other pathogen but was almost certainly not caused by an insect.

“But it had legs like this!” (fingers wiggling)  Sigh.  I shrugged and went back to my cube to continue my boring shit work.

Hours later, I heard the thudding of feet running down the corridor.  My co-worker appeared, breathless, with the Amaryllis (still in its generic green pot) in one hand and the purple ceramic one in the other.  The latter was thrust at me with an air of triumph.

“THERE!  There it is, I TOLD you there was a bug!”  Sure enough, an eensie-weensie rove beetle was busy doing laps in the bottom of the pot.  It was indeed small, dark, wormy and it had little legs…like this; ironically, reasonably accurate descriptors for a rather cryptic-looking group of beetles.

I distinctly remember the undergrad entomology class where I first encountered one of these strange critters.    I remember thinking “wow, what a weird-looking earwig”.  Then spent a good while flipping through the pages of my trusty Borror, Triplehorn, and Johnson, mainly through the chapters involving the more primitive orders.  I was quite surprised to discover (after actually using the key and not just looking at pictures, duh) that it was, in fact, a beetle.  A beetle who had totes received the short end of the elytra stick, but a beetle nonetheless.

Image from Wikipedia

The rove beetles (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae) are the second largest beetle family after the true weevils (Coleoptera: Curculionidae).  With over 46,000 known species, there is considerable variation in size, colour and shape.  However, most can easily be identified by the typically elongate body and very short elytra, which leave over half the abdomen exposed.  I herded the little one in the plant pot onto my finger, where it promptly demonstrated the flexibility of its vulnerable lower half by curling its abdomen up and over in a threat display.

Image from Wikipedia

These beetles are found in a range of habitats but tend to haunt moister areas with leaf litter or similar decaying plant matter.  Staphs feed on almost anything: mainly smaller arthropods and other invertebrates, but also dead plant and animal tissue etc.

Luckily for my co-worker, one of the few things they rarely eat is live, healthy plant tissue.  Her Amaryllis was safe (at least until the virus or rot or whatever it’s got does it in).

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2 responses to “I love being “that person”

  1. Pingback: Hey Geek, what’s this? (European Yellow Underwing, Noctua pronuba) « FallToClimb

  2. Pingback: First Beetles of 2010 (Part 1) « FallToClimb

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