Darkling Beetle

The darkling beetle is one of the hardest working creatures you will find along trails.  This little beetle has the job of cleaning up leaf debris and other things decomposing along the trail.  My family refers to this little insect as the "clean-up crew" and my littles ones always stop to say thank you as they pass by. 

There are 100 species of darkling beetles that reside in California. These beetles are about the size of a quarter and find a nice quiet spot under a rock to reside during the day.  In the afternoons and twilight hours, you may begin to find them walking about the trails.  Their wings are forged together so they depend on those six legs to get from one side of the trail to the other. 

This week's newsletter will look at the general characteristics of these beetles as well as what makes them so important to our open space. 
Beetle Defense 
When these beetles are startled, they may freeze and play dead.  Another defense they are more known for is turning their backs, raising their rears, and emitting an unpleasant smell from a gland in their abdomen.  This foul odor gives them their other common name, "The Stink Beetle."  

This smell defense does protect them, although some animals have found ways to avoid it and still enjoy a beetle as a snack.  Skunks have been seen rolling darkling beetles on the ground until they have expelled all of their stinky chemicals.  Mice are known to grab the beatles, bury their abdomen in the sand, smash the beetle's head, and then eat the beetle before the smell ruins the meal.  

Important Note:
The "Stink Beetle" is different than a "Stink Bug." The stink bug is a little brown flat bug that causes damage to plants and is considered a pest. 
Life of a Beetle
When a beetle is born, it hatches from an egg underground in larva form.  It resembles the mealworms you might find at the pet store.  After molting 10-20 times, it will become the adult beetle that you see on the trail.  Darkling beetles can live 3-15 years.  
The F.B.I. of the Trails

Can you imagine what your neighborhood would look like if the trash truck never came? There would be debris and trash everywhere.  It probably wouldn't smell that great either.  Nature has a trash crew and it is known as the F.B.I.:  


These three components help break down anything that has died so that the ground around it can absorb the nutrients and grow new things. Darkling beetles and other insects belong to the invertebrates group. 

There are many fun activities that can be done to investigate this concept a little bit more.  Here are a few links to some activities that can be done in a classroom or at home.



Here is a video featuring a cute little song about the F.B.I. of the trails.  The words of the song can be found at 
Iron Clad Beetle
I found this little iron clad beetle along the Whole Access Trail.  This tiny beetle is about the size of a dime but has an incredible super power that allows its body to flatten so that it cannot be crushed.  Scientists are now studying the stucture of this beetle in the hope to develop and use a similar structure when creating buildings and cars in order to protect them during earthquakes.
This news clips shows how scientists are studying the secrets of beetles to hopefully inspire future technology. 
Where in the Conejo Valley can you spot a Darkling Beetle? 
Darkling beetles can be on any trail and maybe even in your own backyard.  A few places that I find them a lot are on the Whole Access Trail and Sapwi Trails.  There is actually a sign along the Sapwi Trails that features the darkling beetle.  
Hide the Bug Activity

When we are getting tired, or when spirits begin to head south during a hike, each person gets to choose a bug from a jar we carry in our adventure backpack.  For the rest of the hike, we look for spots our bug can hide using camouflage!  When someone hides their bug, we take a mini break to see who can find the bug first.  It gets our mind off being tired and onto something fun…Science!

These plastic bugs can be purchased in the toy department at most discount stores or online.

To read earlier issues of the Conejo Valley Nature Club Newsletter visit: 
If you would like this information in a format you can distribute to your class, let's chat! Email Christina at naturekidsactivities@gmail.com
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