A major joy of living in Texas comes from our biodiversity, something evident with more than 30,000 known insect species (it’s accepted that we lack a true count of insect diversity here or anywhere else in the world given insects represent more than half of the planet’s total biomass). And in any given winter, insects rarely vanish for more than a few days, give or take sufficient warmth.
But sunshine does not mean warmth. This is a fact insects and arachnids learn the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is they stick their head out long enough to realize their mistake and immediately vanish back into the warmth of their overwintering hideout; the hard way is they leap into the light only to learn too late that cold temperatures spell their demise.
Before the gray overcast of our recent snow storm settled in, a few winks of sunshine bathed my patio long enough to lure critters out with empty promises of comfort. The patio floor is now littered with half a dozen carcasses of leather jackets (crane fly larvae) who didn’t heed my warning about not going into the light. Only in retrospect did I realize they were too young to have seen Poltergeist.
Yet another critter that made an appearance on the last sunny day did listen to me and smartly made a u-turn after recognizing the sun’s deception. Over the course of about 90 seconds, this beetle larva covered a short circular distance in the open as it came from and returned to its bed beneath the wall.
Had I not been standing there watching the goings on and thinking of Carol Anne the whole time, I would have missed the brief visit. By the time I fetched the camera the young beetle had completed three quarters of its round trip, so I snapped a few hurried images before it scrambled out of sight.
About one inch/2.5 centimeters long, its size and general appearance said it was either a rove beetle (a staphylinid; Staphylinidae) or a ground beetle (a carabid; Carabidae). Telling the two apart requires details I can’t determine from the few bad images I snapped, such as the number of leg joints and number of claws on each foot. Also, because this cold insect was covered with dust and dirt from under the wall where it had been sleeping away the winter, important aesthetic details are unfortunately obscured.
Were I to guess, I’d say it’s a rove beetle larva. That’s based on experience. In ten years in this home, at least five rove beetle species have visited the patio regularly, two of them being large species. I have on many occasions seen adults scampering into hideaways beneath the walls.
Many ground beetles have visited the patio in that time as well; however, the species have not been as consistent and the sizes have been mostly small. The difference is environmental: the ground outside the patio represents heaven for rove beetles but is less inviting for ground beetles. Five paces away in the grass and sandy drainage areas, that ratio flip-flops and rove beetles become the minority.
So all I know is that a respectably sized beetle larva is sleeping beneath the patio wall. Its identity remains a mystery. And whether or not I see it again, I know its kith and kin will visit often in the coming warmer seasons.