Brief encounters and new friends

An endless blue sky stretched above me as bright sunshine fell in a heavy downpour of heat.  I stood at the family farm the morning of April 14 waiting for that uncomfortable moment when my parents and I would head to the hospital for yet more doctor visits, more discussion of the tumors growing in my father’s head, more talk of the endlessly impending surgery that ultimately had to be done.

With camera in hand, I restlessly meandered about the main yard looking for something—anything—to photograph, to divert my attention.

Then I found it.

Moving along silently through grass and over dirt was a behemoth, a large beetle so black as to be like ink, so massive as to challenge anything smaller than my own fist.

A water scavenger beetle (probably Hydrophilus ovatus, but could be Hydrophilus triangularis) crawling across the ground (20080414_03463)

I knew it immediately to be either a predacious diving beetle or a water scavenger beetle[1], both of which grow to giant proportions and exhibit the same carapace made of shadow’s deepest hues.

A water scavenger beetle (probably Hydrophilus ovatus, but could be Hydrophilus triangularis) crawling across the ground (20080414_03464)

I knelt and tried photographing it as it marched along.  Much of its time was spent navigating a forest of grass, usually beneath it where capturing respectable images was all but impossible.  But from time to time it crawled into the light upon a bit of earth or a tuft of plant too low to provide shelter.

A water scavenger beetle (probably Hydrophilus ovatus, but could be Hydrophilus triangularis) crawling across the ground (20080414_03466)

Even with eyes intently focused on the creature before me, I realized all too quickly that another approached, one much larger than the first, one interested in discovering just what I had found.

Speckles, a chicken at the family farm, marching through the grass (20080414_03472)

Speckles, one of the chickens at the farm, had busied herself with hunting insects until she set eyes upon me.  Her curious nature and unrelenting interest in the food she’s come to expect from us made her divert course and head unswervingly for my location.

With eyes locked on the ground before me and occasionally glancing at me directly, she approached with steadfast resolution.

It was too late for me to protect the beetle.  The fowl marched right to me, looked me in the eye from within a breath of my face, then turned to look at the ground where my interest had been so focused.

She saw the large beast walking near the place where my knee rested.  She moved in for the kill.

It took but three strikes to dispatch and consume the beetle: the first stunned it into stillness, the second tore away both halves of its wing-covering shell, and the third saw it disappear into a beak on its way to oblivion.

“Hey, that was totally uncool!”  Somehow I felt scolding the hen at least made me feel better.

She cocked her head and looked at me, nothing more in her eyes than pleasant thanks for a sizable meal.

I stood and walked away.

She followed.

Then began a newfound friendship with Speckles.  She remained tight on my heels for quite some time, following me no matter where I went.  Each time I stopped she immediately inspected the ground beneath us, scanning tirelessly for the next goodie I might have discovered and delivered.

Sometimes she would look at me with a questioning face.  “Where is it?” I could hear in the silence between us.  “What did you find?  Point it out so it doesn’t get away.”

I couldn’t help but laugh constantly as I stumbled over her, gently pushed her out of the way with my foot when she refused to accept an empty offering, watched her shadow me ad nauseam while inspecting every inch of ground when I paused, and even tested her intent by zigging and zagging through the yard in random patterns.  She never left my side.

My father was tickled profusely by this scene, by this strange new relationship.

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[1] Only later while examining the images was I able to identify the insect as a water scavenger beetle (probably Hydrophilus ovatus, but could be Hydrophilus triangularis).  The species look too much alike to be properly identified without being keyed.  The reason I say it’s probably Hydrophilus ovatus is because that species is more common here in the south than is its close cousin, Hydrophilus triangularis.

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