I admit it: some bugs give me the shivers. Their aggressive silhouettes and multiple legs yank a bovine bellow of dread from the very pit of my stomach. But they’re animals too, and I know even less about them than normal due to my wimpiness, so I’ll soldier on. I’ll be doing most of my research with one eye closed though.
To stop myself (and others) from jumping every time their page comes up, I’ll include a link to the image for the less squeamish, and just draw them wearing or trying on comedy hats. You definitely need a sense of humour in the world of bugs.
Our first scuttler is the longhorn beetle, formerly known as the longicorn. It’s actually an entire family of beetles, so-called because their antennae are longer than their bodies. (Seriously, some could use them as a skipping rope.) If you’re a bug-liking badass, you can view the largest one, the South American and Caribbean harlequin, here.
Longhorn beetles are veggies, love boring into wood as children, and can be adept at camouflage. Cltyis arietes (yeah, common names aren’t always a thing) and Plagionotus detritus disguise themselves as wasps, Pterognatha gigas of Africa fancies itself as a patch of moss, and some other tropical species mimic ants, although looking like another prey animal sounds a bit daft.
Then again it only matters for a short while, because most longhorn beetles are not long for this world. It’s not just the countless birds and other animals that eat them; after spending 1-2 years as a larva (or up to 10 in the harlequin’s case) locked away in layers of wood, and 2 weeks as a cocoon, the new adults emerge to bonk as much as possible for another fortnight before laying eggs and dying. So if you ever see one, it’s either on its way to or returning from a booty call. The rather chivalrous males fiercely defend the females and their eggs during this orgytastic period, and in some cases, we have fiercely defended the forests back.
The Asian longhorn beetle, for example, has stowed its way into the UK and USA from China and bored through more than its fair share of wood. Like any hostile alien species, it’s been welcomed with destruction (of affected trees), harsh chemicals and quarantine. Some longhorns do come in peace though, and provide a free recycling service for the forest floor or help some lucky trees find their dream date. The aforementioned harlequin even provides a transport system.
In what could be the worst ever thing flying towards you, it will quite happily let tiny pseudoscorpions attach themselves to its wings with silk and hitch a ride. Said ride could be towards falling tree sap, which is part of the harlequin’s diet: if a tree falls in the woods with no one around, the harlequin knows before it hits the ground. This is probably its equivalent of fast food, because deforestation is the main reason for the drop in longhorn numbers, especially over the last 150 years.
One of the most vulnerable is the valley elderberry longhorn beetle of California, which looks like someone over-used the stretch tool on a ladybird and gave it a superhero cape. You’ll be pleased to know that, like all other longhorns, it has no taste for human blood. Bet you can’t guess what it actually eats.
It may take a strong stomach to look at these scuttlers, but you can be safe in the knowledge that they prefer wood to meat, don’t spread diseases, and don’t poison anyone. Plus they feed countless other, cuter animals, which is reason enough to appreciate them.
Latin: Cerembycidae (family)
What? Beetles with antennae longer than their bodies
Where? Worldwide, but more common in the tropics
How big? From 2-152 mm/ 0.7-6 inches, not counting antennae, depending on the species
Endangered? Some of them, yes, and usually due to habitat destruction
Probable motto: Our childhood’s boring, but our adulthood’s banging.
They sound…interesting. Do they need my help/help being avoided at all?
If you’re especially non-squeamish and live in Britain, you can help Buglife with their longhorn beetle survey.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing
“7 Crazy species from the tropics“. 2018. Rainforest Alliance.
Alsop, Peter. 2009. “Invasion of the longhorn beetles“. Smithsonian.com.
“Asian Longhorn Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis)“. 2018. Forestry Commission.
Balmer, Keith. No date. “Bedfordshire longhorn beetles“. Bedfordshire Natural History Society.
“Harlequin beetle“. No date. Britannica.com.
“Harlequin beetle (Acrocincus longimanus)“. No date. Rainforest Alliance.
“Longhorn beetle survey“. No date. Buglife.
Ramdeen, Thalia. 2015. “Acrocinus longimanus (harlequin beetle)“. The Online Guide to the Animals of Trinidad and Tobago. The University of the West Indies.
“Reintroduction of the longhorn beetle“. No date. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Westwood, Brett. 2015. “How to identify longhorn beetles“. Discover Wildlife.