staghorn and ant 1600 size

While volunteering for the Great Basin National Park BioBlitz of Lepidoptera this past July, I came across a large reddish brown beetle sitting by the trail. When I picked the animal up, I realized it was dead (or so I thought – more about that in a minute). Attached to the back leg was a dead ant, which had clearly bit it. I admired the color and large size of the beetle (about 2” in length at least) but I wondered what kind of species and what had happened that both should have passed away. Perhaps the ant’s bite poisoned the beetle and/or vice versa? Had the two been sprayed by a repellant or poison from a passing hiker? Fortunately, Ken, a National Park Service volunteer and expert in all things natural history (including “bunnies” according to his business card. Ken had a sense of humor I could tell when I noted this detail, as he smiled), was able to explain.

The beetle was a Stag Horn Beetle and she was a female, as she had an ovipositor extending from her bag end (the ovipositor from which eggs are released). She had most likely been climbing trees to lay eggs amidst the trunk. Her rounding belly was clue to this as well. This type of beetle, I was told, typically lays about 100 eggs, each individually, each in its own hole the mother has drilled in the bark of the tree. We could see as we looked at the trees, various holes in its surface. While this mother has been making safe havens for her young, a carpenter ant protecting the tree had attacked her. Often older carpenter ants are given this task since their strength and usefulness has lessened. Its good size indicated it was an older animal. The ant never let go once it latched onto this mom, so during the beetle’s arduous task, the ant was dragged along, then perished due to its weaker state.

Ken indicated the beetle was still in the process of dying, as she was quite soft yet, but she was very close to the end. He said this was the way it worked. Once she had finished laying eggs, her life ends. I decided to pay homage to her and the ant, in the short time that I had by painting a watercolor sketch. I then returned her and the ant to where I had found them, amidst some grasses along the trail.

Here’s an image of the initial sketch and animals:

staghorn with iniitial sketch

The final painting and showing her underside:

staghorn with belly and painting

As always, your respect is appreciated. Please do not reproduce without my permission, as they are my original works. Thank you!

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