Do Click Beetles Play Dead? Unveiling the Truth Behind Their Behavior

Click beetles are fascinating insects known for their unique ability to right themselves when upside down. These agile beetles utilize a snapping mechanism, which propels them into the air, enabling them to land on their feet. While this unusual trait has captured the curiosity of many, another intriguing aspect is their behavior of playing dead to avoid predation.

It turns out that playing dead, also known as thanatosis, is a widespread survival strategy among various animal species, including click beetles. This tactic can be highly effective, as predators are often deterred from consuming insects that appear lifeless. So, while click beetles are known for their airborne acrobatics, their ability to play dead is another essential feature that contributes to their survival in the wild.

An Overview of Click Beetles

Brief Biology and Characteristics

Click beetles belong to the family Elateridae, with their signature clicking mechanism primarily used as a defense to escape or to startle potential predators1. Mainly found in North America, these beetles come in various species, differing in size and length. Their colors range from brown to black, with specific ornamentation on their body. Click beetles possess a shield-like structure, called the pronotum, located behind their head2.

Some features of click beetles include:

  • Elongated, parallel-sided body
  • Pronotum with backward projections on side corners
  • Flattened appearance
  • Range in size and color by species

Click Beetle Species

There are different species of click beetles, including Alaus patricius. This species measures around 30 to 35 mm in length, and its body color varies from dark brown to black3. Click beetles can be identified by their extended pronotum, which points to the rear. Also, their antennae are either serrate, threadlike, or possess little combs at the tip4.

Comparison of Click Beetle Features:

Feature Elateridae (Click Beetles)
Body Shape Elongated & Parallel-sided
Size Varies by species
Color Brown to Black
Antennae Type Serrate, Threadlike, Combed

Why Click Beetles Play Dead

Understanding Thanatosis

Thanatosis, also known as playing dead or tonic immobility, is a behavior found in various animals, including click beetles. This behavior is a survival mechanism for:

  • Escaping predators
  • Increasing chances of capturing prey

Some other creatures using thanatosis are:

  • Virginia opossum
  • Spiders
  • Ants

How Click Beetles Fake Death

Click beetles play dead to escape or deter potential predators. When threatened, they may engage in the following behaviors:

  • Falling to the ground
  • Staying motionless
  • Concealing colored patterns (if any)

Predators of click beetles:

  • Moles
  • Shrews
  • Birds
Animal/Insect Name of Playing Dead Used For avoiding Predators Used For Capturing Prey
Click Beetles Thanatosis Yes No
Virginia Opossum Playing Dead Yes No
Spiders Tonic Immobility/Thanatosis Yes Yes
  • Pros of playing dead for click beetles:
    • Effective defense mechanism
    • Energy conservation in stressful situations
  • Cons of playing dead for click beetles:
    • Vulnerability when immobile
    • Lack of active fleeing or fighting capability

Click Beetle Behavior

Clicking Noise Mechanism

Click beetles, belonging to the family Elateridae, are known for their unique clicking mechanism. They use this mainly as a defense to escape from or startle potential predators, and also to help them get back on their feet when they are turned onto their backs1. A spine-like structure snaps into a groove on the underside of the beetle’s thorax, which enables them to flip suddenly into the air2. This behavior startles predators and helps click beetles evade capture.

Nocturnal Habits

Most species of click beetles are nocturnal, meaning they are active mainly during the night. Some click beetles are even bioluminescent3, which means they can produce light:

  • Glowing click beetle: These beetles emit a greenish light from their bodies to attract mates or scare off predators3.
  • Eastern eyed click beetle: This beetle has large, oval eye spots on its back, which act as a deterrent to predators4. The large, false eyes may make it seem like a more formidable opponent.

These nocturnal creatures contribute to the ecosystem by controlling the insect populations they prey upon[^5^].

Feature Glowing Click Beetle Eastern Eyed Click Beetle
Active during Night Night
Appearance Glowing body Oval eye spots
Primary purpose of unique feature Attract mates Deter predators

Please note that some information here relies on specific source details provided by these links 1(https://extension.umaine.edu/home-and-garden-ipm/fact-sheets/common-name-listing/click-beetles/),[^2^](https://education.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/click-beetles),[^3^](https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/trees/beetles/click_beetle.htm),[^4^](https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/click-beetles), and^5^.

Click Beetles and Agriculture

Wireworms and Crop Damage

Click beetles, also known as snapping beetles, spring beetles, elaters, or skipjacks, are insects that have a unique clicking mechanism. Their larvae, called wireworms, are hard-bodied and can be harmful to plants.

Wireworms can cause damage to agricultural crops, as they live in soil and feed on plant roots. Some common symptoms of wireworm damage include:

  • Stunted plant growth
  • Yellowing of leaves
  • Rotting of roots

Managing Infestations and Pests

To manage click beetle infestations and their wireworm larvae in agricultural settings, several strategies can be employed, such as:

  • Clean cultivation: Removing plant debris and keeping the soil tidy can decrease wireworm populations.
  • Clean fallowing: Leaving the soil bare during fallow periods can help reduce wireworm abundance.

When dealing with wireworm infestations, the use of insecticides may be necessary. It is essential to apply the insecticides before planting to ensure that wireworms do not cause significant damage to germinating seeds and young plants.

Method Pros Cons
Clean Cultivation Reduces wireworm populations May require extra labor
Clean Fallowing Reduces wireworm abundance Can leave soil exposed to erosion
Insecticides Effective in controlling pests Potential harm to beneficial insects

In conclusion, understanding the biology and behavior of click beetles and their wireworm larvae can help minimize their damage to agricultural crops. Through a combination of cultural practices and targeted use of insecticides, these pests can be effectively managed in agricultural settings.

Less Common Click Beetle Species

False Click Beetles

False click beetles belong to the Eucnemidae family and are similar to click beetles in appearance. Some species can even “click,” although they are less common than regular click beetles. They usually occur in wood that’s beginning to decay1.

Pyrophorus and Bioluminescence

Pyrophorus is a less common species of click beetles, known for its bioluminescent properties2. An example of this species is the Alaus oculatus, or the eyed click beetle, which has two large, false “eyespots” on its prothorax3. These eyespots contain a bioluminescent substance, helping the beetle to attract potential mates or deter predators4.

Main differences between False Click Beetles and Pyrophorus:

  • False click beetles belong to the Eucnemidae family, while Pyrophorus belongs to the Elateridae family.
  • Pyrophorus species possess bioluminescence, unlike false click beetles.
  • False click beetles are usually found in decaying wood; Pyrophorus inhabit a variety of environments.

Comparison Table

Feature False Click Beetles Pyrophorus
Family Eucnemidae Elateridae
Bioluminescence No Yes
Typical Habitat Decaying wood Variety of environments

Footnotes

  1. Click Beetles, Cooperative Extension 2 3 4

  2. Texas A&M University, Click Beetle/Wireworm 2 3

  3. Alaus spp., Entomology and Nematology Department 2 3 4

  4. Click Beetles, Missouri Department of Conservation 2 3

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Mystery Beetle, Possibly Click Beetle: Euthysanius species

 

While taking our morning walk in the canyon near downtown Los Angeles, we encountered a strand of spider silk stretched across the path. It was probably from one of the Araneas or Neoscona species that build enormous webs at night. Dangling from the silk was a shrouded insect. When we broke the silk to pass, out of curiosity, we decided to unwrap the insect. What we found was amazing on several levels. First, the beetle was alive, meaning the spider was anticipating a future meal. The beetle has a hard shell, is just over an inch long and is shaped like on of the Click Beetles, Family Elateridae. It is covered with hairs that shine gold in the sunlight. But those feathery antennae seemed out of character. We quickly turned to our guide books and could locate nothing remotely similar. We decided to trouble Eric Eaton thinking he could quickly identify this anomoly. Here is his response: “Wow! Cool:-) I would agree that it is probably a click beetle, but have never seen anything like it. I’ll try and forward this image to Arthur Evans and see what he says. Thanks for sharing! Eric” So, for the moment, our beetle remains a mystery.

NOTE: Eric then wrote back with more information. L.A. Elaterid? “Here’s what my buddy Dr. Art Evans has to say about your beetle. CRAZY! Let it go if it is still alive. If it has died, then you can send it along, thank you:-) Eric”
And here is Dr. Art Evans conclusion: “The following excerpt is from our upcoming field guide for CA beetles: At least five species of Euthysanius are found in California. The males of Euthysanius lautus (15.0-19.0 mm) (Plate 111) are reddish-brown with grooved elytra and feathery, 12-segmented antennae. They are found under the bark of pines (Pinus) and are attracted to lights throughout southern California. Adult females (up to 35.0 mm) (Plate 112) have very short elytra and lack flight wings, exposing most of the abdominal segments. They are found crawling over the ground.”

Letter 2 – Large Black Click Beetle: Lanelater schottii???

 

Saturday 18 April 2009, 10 PM
We went to the grocery store to buy a steak to eat with the four edible morels that sprouted under our carob tree between the Digitalis. We we went out to pick the morels, we noticed the silhouette of a large beetle on the screen door. We have never seen such a large beautiful black Click Beetle before in Los Angeles. We captured the beetle and measured it at a whopping 1 1/8 inches, and we tried unsuccessfully to photograph it.

Click Beetle

It is dark and we have to manually focus, and the beetle was moving fast. Furthermore, the batteries are low and we didn’t buy more at the market. After taking four blurry images, we put the Click Beetle in the refrigerator to cool down and hopefully slow its metabolism. We tried to identify this beauty on BugGuide, and we believe it may be in the genus Lanelater. It looks startlingly like Lanelater sallei, but that species is from the Gulf States. A pdf on the genus Lanelater that we located online mentions another species from Arizona, Lanelater schottii, and BugGuide has an image of that species as well. Can our beetle be Lanelater schottii? We plan to buy new batteries tomorrow and taking some better images by daylight. While photographing this Click Beetle on the kitchen table, we turned it on its back several times. It can right itself in one or two tries. It only flips about 2 inches in the air.

Click Beetle

We chilled the Click Beetle and got a clearer image, but we hope to get new batteries and shoot it again tomorrow morning.

Click Beetle

Update: Sunday 19 April 2009, 2:04 PM
We kept the Unknown Click Beetle in the refrigerator overnight, and it paid off.  We managed to get numerous images before the beetle became too active.

Unknown Click Beetle

We have decent shots of both the dorsal and ventral view.

Unknown Click Beetle

The spines at the tips of the thorax are quite prominent.  The heat has set in in LA and we are expecting highs of 95º today and tomorrow. There were countless beetles and moths at the porch light.

Unknown Click Beetle

This Click Beetle is large and very black.  Now that we are certain we have good photo documentation, we are releasing our pretty Click Beetle and waiting for Eric Eaton or another reader to assist us in the proper identification.

Unknown Click Beetle

Letter 3 – Click Beetle from the Philippines: Oxynopterus mucronatus

 

Subject: unknown bug
Location: southern philippines
August 16, 2015 6:43 am
hi mr. bugman!
a friend of mine posted in his facebook page an image of a weird unidentified bug which looks like some kind of cockroach.
could you help identify what it is?
they found it somewhere in southern philippines.
i have attached an image of the bug. unfortunately only 1 picture was posted.
Signature: it doesn’t matter

Click Beetle, we believe
Click Beetle, we believe

This is most definitely NOT a Cockroach, but rather a beetle, and it bears a striking resemblance to this Click Beetle from Thailand we posted some time back that was identified as Oxynopterus mucronatus.  We believe it is either the same species or a closely related species.  This FlickR image indicates that Oxynopterus mucronatus is found in the Philippines.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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11 thoughts on “Do Click Beetles Play Dead? Unveiling the Truth Behind Their Behavior”

  1. Malaysian Hercules beetle brentid beetle Eutrachelus 51cb temmincki Snout beetle Dynastes hercules Cyrtotrachelus dux Jewel scarab beetle Chrysina resplendens Click beetle Semiotus angulatus Malayan frog beetleSagra Jewel beetle . What does click beetle mean as a name of something?

    Reply
    • Because if the beetle starts to think that it was in harm, he starts to pop out his head and makes a click sound so, the name its self came from the clicking sound it makes as a defensive mechanism.

      Reply
  2. How do you get rid of them… I haven’t heard them click but they a re every where … Even in the house and I live in wisconsin… K. P S. I only hav e g mail…

    Reply
  3. Ok I seen 2 times what I have found in my bathroom. And I tried killing it, which I have killed 1 how do I get rid of of them. And what are they?

    Reply
  4. Hello i had this big briwn n long beetle on my desk. I picked it up and it played dead. The head had a clicking sound.

    Reply

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