Small Black and Red-Orange Beetle – Collops

2011 May 7

Sam found this small, brightly-colored beetle on a window screen on July 24, 2010. He was only about four millimeters long (the thing he is standing on is the lip of a plastic jar that is about 2 mm thick) but the red-orange coloration was fairly eye-catching.

I say “he”, because his antennae clearly show that this is a male. That bulging at the base of the antenna is characteristic of male beetles in the genus Collops, along with the bright colors and the soft, kind of fuzzy wing covers.

It’s a relative of the Scarlet Malachite Beetle, which actually has appeared in these pages three times already (once as an adult, once as a larva, and once when the larva developed into an adult).

I’m not finding much information about the Collops [1] genus specifically, but it looks like they have the same lifestyle as the rest of their close relatives (the soft-winged flower beetles): the larvae live under bark or in leaf litter where they prey on other small creatures. The adults hang out in flowers where they eat pollen and the occasional other insect that visits the flower. Since red is typically a warning color, it probably has some fairly effective chemical defenses that make it unpleasant to eat.[2]

Anyway, since they eat other insects, we can take them as being mildly beneficial, although they evidently don’t get numerous enough to be really important (unlike, say, lady beetles).

[1] Usually, searching on the scientific name of an insect turns up a fair amount of information. In this case, though, searching on “Collops” just tells me that collops are slices of meat. Or, a collop is the amount of land needed to provide grazing area for one cow (which varies in size depending on how good the land is, and what the climate is like. And, presumably, on how big your cow is.) Searching for “Collops beetle” actually turns up a fair number of pages about the beetles, but none of them seem to have any more information than what I have here already.

[2] I suppose that if I wanted to make a small name for myself in the entomological community, I could start a campaign of tasting every brightly-colored insect I find to see which ones are actually vile-tasting, and which are merely faking it. Kind of like Justin Schmit’s “sting pain index” for stinging insects. I could also start whacking my thumb with a hammer for amusement. Well, it’s something to think about, anyway.

5 Responses
  1. sandy h permalink
    May 7, 2011

    You’re going to start eating bugs?! Next blog, “My trips to the hospital”.

  2. May 7, 2011

    What tastes vile to you might not taste vile to a collops predator, and vv!

  3. May 8, 2011

    Yes, I’d like to avoid frequent trips to the hospital, which is why I haven’t actually started tasting bugs. I’d have to come up with some tasting protocol that would let me check the flavor without actually swallowing any of it. Maybe something like wine-tasting; touch to the tongue, if no effect then swirl it around a bit, and then spit and rinse with water.

    There’d still be some potential for getting poisoned if the bug gives off some sort of gaseous defensive chemical, though. I could probably get away with it in Michigan, but further south the potential for serious toxicity is probably too much.

  4. May 8, 2011

    Yes, the whole bit with humans not being the predators they are defending against could be a problem. I’ve read that, for example, box elder bugs have defensive chemicals against birds, but that these are of no benefit in fending off spiders and and predatory insects. For that matter, there are some things that mammals taste strongly but that birds kind of shrug off (like the capsacin in hot peppers), so I expect that it sometimes works in reverse.

  5. Della3 permalink
    July 31, 2011

    Lovely little fuzzy bug. Please don’t bite!

    I’m curious – in the bug world we assume that colorations and shapes, etc., all have something to do with eating and being eaten. Amongst birds and mammals we assume such things all have something to do with mating. Is it possible that any of these bright colors and patterns on arthropods have something to do with mating traditions? Even amongst tribal peoples, certain painted, tattooed, or scarred markings, or certain patterns of clothing are traditional requirements for attractiveness to the opposite sex. Why can’t bugs have similar desires?

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