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Friday, Aug. 10, 2001
By ROWAN HOOPER
* Japanese name:Kabutomushi * Scientific name:Allomyrina dichotoma * Description: One of the best-known and best-loved insects in Japan, this beetle is also one of the easiest to identify. Males have a large horn extending from the head and another, smaller one from the thorax. They are very strong, heavy insects, but they can fly; like all beetles, their wings are hidden under their wing covers. They are dark brown or reddish-brown and are between 30 and 60 mm long. The second part of their scientific name, dichotoma, means "divided into two," because males come in only two sizes -- big or small, never medium-size. * Where to find them: From June to August you can find them in supermarkets all over the country, but in the wild, they are active at night in forests. They smell sap oozing from wounds in trees and fly to them. The larvae live in rotten tree stumps or buried in soil, feeding on rotting wood. Once the larvae are fat enough, they pupate. * Food: Horned beetles feed on tree sap. If you are keeping them in a terrarium, feed them cucumber or watermelon and provide them with a ball of cotton wool soaked in sugar water. Change the cotton wool daily to prevent it from getting moldy. * Special features: The horn. Kabutomushi literally means "helmet insect." Their horns and armored exoskeleton recall the armor worn by samurai. Males fight like samurai, too, using their horns to fight each other for control of scars on trees (where valuable sap comes from). Females visit the trees to feed, and it is here that males have the best chance of mating with them. Competition between males for these sap sites is intense. The fights take place on the tree trunk. Males attempt to get their horn under the body of their opponent, then flick. If successful, the losing male goes flying off the tree.
Exoskeleton: The hard, external shell structure that insects use for support and muscle attachment (insects don't have internal skeletons).