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Pastor's Blog

The American Oil Beetle

October 9, 2018


Yesterday I wrapped a forty pound concrete block in an old blanket, dropped it in Katie’s backpack, and took it out to the Navarino Wildlife Area.  I became quite familiar with the concept of gravity yesterday, though I think sitting under a tree and having an apple fall on your head is a way better way to figure that out.  It didn’t feel that bad when I first put it on to weigh the thing.  The first hour was the worst.  It was almost as bad as the third hour.  The fourth hour, I felt pretty good. 

This is how I got ready to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) six years ago.  I thought I’d get an earlier start getting ready for next year’s sabbatical backpacking trip on the Washington State section of the Pacific Crest Trail.  I’m hoping I have at least one more long trip up to green pastures and still mountain waters in me.  I thought I would start getting ready earlier since I’m six years closer to worm fodder and since it’s a longer trip and since even after I was ready for the JMT I wasn’t ready.  The JMT starts in Yosemite National Park with a four thousand foot climb.  It was 90 plus degrees the day we did it.  After that, I was numb with exhaustion.  Wanted to quit.  No pain really, then or now.  It was just the carrying the weight thing.  I learned a lot and spent some money on lighter equipment.  I don’t think I’ll be carrying a 40 pound pack next summer.

I met a beetle yesterday I have never seen in my entire life.  Yet folks on the internet treat this beetle like they’re as common as ants.  Since I spent a lot of time looking down as I walked yesterday, bent over under my burden as I was, maybe that’s why I saw two of them in different fields miles apart.  They’re freakishly long (three inches) and a gorgeous shiny blue-green black.  The enormous abdomen they drag around all day looks like it’s metal-plated; it accounts for about 90% of their length.  They’re called American Oil Beetles a.k.a. Blister Beetles.  Vulnerable lunks that they are, if you touch them, they secrete a caustic oil that eats your skin, causes blisters, swelling, and lingering pain.  After I left the second one, I had second thoughts: I wanted to go back and learn more about that amazing creature – you know, chill with him a while to see what he likes to do on warm, gloomy, autumn afternoons.  I couldn’t find him again.  Which was a good thing, because I might have been tempted to touch those shiny metal plates. 

In the realm of nature this is one despicable dude.  Various descriptions of its M.O. online.  In the spring, the female lays eggs at the base of flowers.  Thousands of eggs.  The larvae hatch, climb up the stalks, and release pheromones that remind male bees of their honeys.  When the bees waver close to check it out, the larvae hop on board.  What?  Yup, the Blister Beetle Babies hitch a ride back to the hive.  Usually the hives of ground bees.  Since as larvae Blister Beetle Babies apparently look like bee larvae, they fit right in, so no one knows that they’re actually bee larvae eating maniacs.  Yup.  Blister Beetle Babies eat Bee Babies.  And honey.  When they’re all plumped up from eating baby bees (dipped in honey), they enter their pupate state, and eventually crawl out of the hive to do it all again. 

See: there’s a lot worse things you can end up carrying around with you than a forty pound concrete block.

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange