Monday, March 27, 2023

Gotta admire those beetles

From a biological standpoint, beetles are pretty amazing creatures.

For one thing, there are a kazillion different kinds – at least 400,000 described species, with by some estimates another 3 million waiting to be classified and named.

Beetles are the universal animal. If anything is edible, there's a beetle out there that will eat it ... and a lot of stuff that doesn't seem edible is often eaten by beetles too (strychnine? fiber insulators on telegraph cables?).

They can also fill a remarkably precise niche. A species called Zonocopris gibbicolis feeds only on the droppings of large land snails, hitching a ride inside the shell. Other beetles specialize in eating carpets and furniture.

My favorite quote about beetles is by British journalist A.A. Gill: "Beetles are not aristocratic, vain esoterics, like butterflies and moths, or communists, like ants and bees. They're not filthy, opportunistic carpetbaggers like flies. They are professional, with a skill. There is nowhere that doesn't, sooner or later, call in a beetle to set up shop and get things done."

This is a long-winded introduction to a new kind of beetle we've been seeing everywhere lately. They're about a third of an inch long and have brown and black markings on its back. We never saw these before moving to our new (to us) home, so we figured they were just an example of a new regional species to get used to.

But it turns out there's a bit more to these beetles than meets the eye. You see, they're an invasive species called the elm seed bug. According to this link, "The elm seed bug is a relatively new introduced pest species in the United States that originates from the Mediterranean region of Europe. This pest was first discovered in the United States in Idaho in 2012 but has since been found in several states in the Western U.S., including Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington, as well as farther east in Michigan."

Whee! Idaho is at the forefront of an invasive species infestation! 

Rather charmingly, though, there is no effort being made to eradicate this beetle because it's, well, harmless. It doesn't seem to do damage to humans, crops, or native species. It's just ... there, everywhere, going about its business and bothering no one.

About the most authorities are saying about this critter is it's a "nuisance" pest since it often overwinters indoors. And sure enough, we had lots of them indoors over the winter (still do), probably brought in with firewood. But they're harmless. They don't sting, bite, fly, startle, or bother us.

As far as pests go, I'd rather have elm seed bugs than lots of other things I could mention.


  1. If they are called Elm seed bugs do they bore into elm trees like red headed ash borers do to ash trees?

  2. Apparently not. Quoting the source linked above: "Elm seed bugs do not damage elm trees or structural buildings and only are considered a nuisance when they congregate in large numbers on the sides of buildings or inside of structures during cold months."

    - Patrice

    1. "....when they congregate in large number on the sides of buildings or inside of structures during cold months." Sounds like Box Elder Bugs. They will cover the southern exposure of buildings and of course get in. Then the wasps show up to eat them. It is a mad dash trying to get in the house without the wasps!

  3. Let’s not forgot about those marvelous dung beetles! Gross to think about, but very hard workers.

  4. I'm in southern Idaho and we have numerous elm trees and millions of these bugs. They'll slip in cracks in your house or by windows and will congregate by lights, under pictures and by windows/doors. They don't hurt you, but do produce an odd smell if you squash them. They also leaving droppings everywhere they sit, covering the walls where they congregate and it's hard to remove, search for pics online and you'll see what I mean. If you get a lot, use a vacuum and suck them up, we get hundreds in the house every day in warmer months. They do actually eat elm seeds and ours will eat elm leaves. They aren't destructive, just very annoying and once you have them, you'll never be rid if them. They do love overwintering in firewood and other debris and most birds don't eat them either. Nothing works to deter them either unfortunately, we've had them for 10 years now and they get worse every year.

  5. Gosh. I have to admit I've been jealous of ya'll somewhat after reading somewhere that your part of the country had fewer insects than we do down South. I'm still a little jealous. The lubbers will hatch the end of April/beginning of May. They'll eat everything in sight and nothing eats them. My walks turn into stomping forays. Trade you the lubbers for your beetles!

  6. Thank goodness we're not expected to eat them.

    Mama J

  7. We have them in Michigan and we call them stink bugs for obvious reasons. They cause no damage and we just pick them up gently with a piece of TP and throw them in the toilet. JDub

  8. The "Elm Seed Bug" is the same or close to the "Wood Bug" in parts of Europe. They make holes in wood, usually of the floor, and begin to chew.