BugBowl at Purdue is approaching and we are preparing our petting zoo. A popular petting zoo insect is the Passalid or Bess Beetle, Odontotaenius disjunctus. I described some of the Bess Beetle behaviors and diet in a previous post.
The Bess Beetles have one of the highest levels of social behavior among all beetles. Colonies share tunnels in rotting logs, food, microorganisms and defense. They communicate by sound and odor. Vision is not as important because it is dark in the tunnels of rotting logs.
does not can fly even though its forewings (elytra) are fused and do not open. The 1946 report by Gray states that they do not fly but there are a few reported observations of them in flight and they occasionally are attracted to light traps. The hind wings are not used for flight as in other beetles. In the Bess Beetle, the hind wings produce sounds by rubbing across the abdomen.
According to Jack Schuster (Florida Entomologist 66:486-496, 1983) Bess Beetles make 7 distinct types of sounds under a variety of circumstances. This translates into at least 14 signals, a large number for an arthropod. Sounds are produced for defensive purposes to startle predators, and warnings to nest mates. Males produce sound when fighting other males and the beetles produce courtship sounds. Bess beetles are quite common, but often overlooked because they are typically safely tucked away out of sight in rotten logs. You can see them and pet them at BugBowl Saturday April 14 and Sunday April 15, 2012.