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Thursday, Aug. 14, 2003

ANIMAL TRACKER

Pleasing fungus beetle


* Japanese name: Ookinokomushi
* Scientific name: ncaustes praenobilis
* Description: his beetle gets its English name from the shiny appearance of its wing cases and its orange patterning, distinctive against its black, hairless body. The appearance was obviously pleasing to early entomologists. It is a bullet-shaped beetle up to 2 cm long. The antennas end in a 3-segmented, flat club.
* Where to find them: Fungus beetles are hard to find. Attracted to sap, they live under sheets of dead bark or in tree stumps. Fungus beetles congregate and often masses of pupal cases can be seen hanging under the bark. Beech forests are particularly good places to find fungus beetles.
* Food: Pleasing fungus beetles feed on the fruiting bodies of fungi, in other words, the mushroom. Each pleasing fungus beetle species seems to be associated with certain types of fungi. Some feed on hard bracket fungi found on dead trees and stumps, some on oyster mushrooms growing on dead logs. Still others feed on fungi that form symbiotic associations with living tree roots. Pleasing fungus beetles are not pleasing news for mushroom farmers and mushroom hunters in Japan, because they often feed on mushrooms that are also eaten by humans.
* Special features: All beetles go through a complete metamorphosis during their development from eggs to adults. The egg hatches into a larva, which pupates before becoming an adult. Since fungus beetles feed on mushrooms, an ephemeral food source, the larvae feed and develop faster than the larvae of other insects, going from egg to pupa in about two weeks. The growth is fast, but the movement of the larvae themselves is slow: They sit on the fungus and eat and are never found away from their food. When there are no fungi to be found, the larvae, like roosting bats, form large groups under bark or in holes in tree stumps. The mechanism that allows the beetles to form groups is unknown, but some biologists guess it is pheromonal, a chemical signal released by the beetles themselves.



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