During my camping trip, I spent hours and hours poking around in the mixed forest surrounding my campsite, scouring the area for insects I could photograph. I was mostly looking for moths (I figured, since I don’t know the group well at all, I should practice for National Moth Week, which is coming up soon – so go register – hint hint), but I was also keeping my eyes peeled for other interesting beasts.
The moth-hunting quickly taught me two things: 1) even very tiny things (i.e., micro-moths) are worth pausing for, and 2) don’t discount something at first glance because it seems “boring”. Walking through the woods would flush a fluttering of pale, inconspicuous and seemingly uniform beige wings, but a closer look, some photographs, and some time with my new field guide (which is just great, by the way) revealed remarkable diversity.
So, it was with these principles in mind that I paused to give a boring-looking dot of meandering brown on the trunk of a white birch a second glance.
I was so glad I did, because it turned out to be a species of jewel beetle (Buprestidae) I’d been wanting to see: the bronze birch borer (Agrilus anxius*).
Small, with subtle but beautiful colours, this little gem would walk, stop, walk, stop, walk, stop – all apparently quite purposefully. As I watched, I realized that every time it stopped, it would extend something long and beige into a crevice or under a scale of bark. I had a female, who was in the process of laying eggs!
The green arrow is pointing to the female’s ovipositor, which she is using to place an egg under a small scale of bark.
A cropped photo showing the ovipositor
In the minute or two that I watched she must have deposited at least a few dozen eggs. It was an incredible thing to observe, and her preoccupation with her important task probably helped her ignore my antics as I struggled and sprawled on the forest floor to find an accessible angle from which to take her picture.
Had I 1) not bothered to check out the boring brown speck on the tree, or 2) simply taken a few quick shots and not stuck around to watch, I would have missed out on seeing a new-to-me species AND missed out on witnessing some really interesting behaviour.
The moths, and this beetle, were excellent reminders that we must sometimes pause, and really LOOK, in order to capture some of nature’s most interesting moments.
*It is almost certainly A. anxius, but there is a chance it could also be A. pensus, which is also associated with birch (hat tip to Ted for this info).