If you believe Charles Darwin, Susie Schwoch — Oak Bluffs resident and amateur entomologist — is definitely going places.
That famed naturalist, also a fan of creepy-crawlies, felt that an interest in a specific group of insects would foreshadow achievement. Darwin observed, “A taste for collecting beetles is some indication of future success in life.”
To support this theory, he noted that he himself, in earlier years, “went out collecting (beetles) with Albert Way of Trinity, who in after years became a well-known archaeologist; also with H. Thompson, afterwards a leading agriculturalist, chairman of a great railway, and a Member of Parliament.”
Fortunately for the beetles, Susie spends more time photographing insects than collecting them. She recently captured an image of a unique and good-looking beetle. Though some would question the beauty of a beetle, Susie sees its loveliness clearly and would likely agree with the Moorish proverb that every beetle is a gazelle in the eyes of its mother.
In Susie’s collection of photographs, there is now a common shore tiger beetle, also known as a bronzed tiger beetle. This species of tiger beetle can be found in sandy or clayey soils near water (ponds, rivers, and the like). It has a characteristic pattern on its back and has the distinction of being the only tiger beetle that will deviate from its typical meaty meal.
The bronzed tiger beetle is not a finicky eater and will feast on fruit. This was a startling finding for some, since tiger beetles were previously not thought to eat anything other than other animals.
More typical food sources for tiger beetles are other insects, and tiger beetles are known for their aggressive, fast and deadly strikes on their prey. One of their most admired qualities is the speed at which they can move.
Tiger beetles can run 5 to 6 miles per hour. This is astounding when you consider their size. In proportion to its body, this speed is 22 times the speed of an Olympic sprinter. Put another way, a human covering as much distance in relation to body size would attain a speed of 480 miles per hour!
Their speed, however, does give the beetles some limitations. Tiger beetles are so fast that they are, in effect, blinded when they run. Due to their swiftness, the rush of visual information is coming in faster than their brains can process it. Since they can’t see a thing in the path ahead, to avoid a head-on collision, tiger beetles use their antennae stretched out in front of them.
Thus, there are more than enough reasons for Darwin, Susie and other folks to be fascinated by beetles of all sorts. The tiger beetle is just one example whose attributes inspire much enthusiasm. In fact, this fervor led another biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, to exclaim, “The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other, for the simple reason that there are nearly 300,000 species of beetle known, and perhaps more, as compared with somewhat less than 9,000 species of birds and a little over 10,000 species of mammals. Beetles are actually more numerous than the species of any other insect order. That kind of thing is characteristic of nature.”
Or as someone else paraphrased it, “The Creator, if He exists, has an inordinate fondness for beetles.”
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.