Do Eastern Eyed Click Beetles Bite? Debunking the Myth

Eastern eyed click beetles, or Alaus oculatus, are fascinating insects well-known for their unique flipping ability. When turned over on their back, these beetles use an audible “click” to flip themselves into the air and land on their feet, a skill that acts as a natural defense mechanism source.

These large beetles are easily identifiable by their elongated bodies and the two large, eye-like spots near their head, which are thought to scare away potential predators. While their intriguing appearance and behavior might make people curious about their interactions with them, it’s essential to know whether eastern eyed click beetles pose any risk, such as biting.

Overview of Eastern Eyed Click Beetles

Scientific Name and Classification

The Eastern Eyed Click Beetle belongs to the Animalia kingdom, the Arthropoda phylum, and the Insecta class. Its scientific name is Alaus oculatus and it is a member of the Elateridae family within the Coleoptera order. The Elateridae family comprises a diverse group of beetles commonly known as “click beetles.”

Distribution in North America

Eastern Eyed Click Beetles, also referred to as Eyed Click Beetles, are prevalent in North America, particularly in the eastern regions. They inhabit deciduous forests where they play a role in the ecosystem by helping to decompose wood and control the population of other insects.

Physical Characteristics

Size and Length

  • Eastern eyed click beetles are one of the larger click beetles in their region.
  • Adults can reach up to almost 2 inches in length 1.

Eyespots and False eyes

  • These beetles have two large black spots near their head that resemble eyes 1.
  • The spots, called eyespots, are thought to scare away predators.

Elytra and Thorax

  • The beetles’ body is somewhat flattened and covered with a hard shell, called an elytra 2.
  • The pronotum, a shield-like structure behind the head, features backward projections on the side corners 2.

Behavior and Life Cycle

Larvae and Pupa Stages

Eastern eyed click beetles start their life as larvae, known as wireworms. These wireworms are:

  • Hard-bodied
  • Brownish
  • Cylindrical
  • Around ½ to 2-½ inches long

They reside in decaying logs in woodland areas and feed on longhorn beetle grubs during their development before turning into pupae.

Feeding and Diet

Adult eastern eyed click beetles feed on nectar and other parts of vegetation. Here are some examples of their favorite food sources:

  • Flowers
  • Leaves
  • Fruits

Larvae, on the other hand, are predators that primarily feed on longhorn beetle grubs within their decaying log habitats.

Reproduction and Eggs

Eastern eyed click beetles mate and lay their eggs in forest environments, particularly near decaying logs. This strategic location ensures the following stages of development:

  • Larvae have easy access to grubs as their primary food source
  • Larvae are protected within the log until they become pupae and eventually turn into adult beetles

Defense and Predation

Click Mechanism and Sound

The Eastern Eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus) is known for its unique click mechanism that allows it to quickly right itself when flipped onto its back. This clicking action occurs when the beetle snaps its body, producing an audible sound.

  • Click mechanism examples:
    • Escaping potential predators
    • Moving to a more desirable position

Mimicry and Bioluminescent

These beetles are also noted for their mimicry, displaying two large black spots resembling eyes to deter predators. While Alaus oculatus is not bioluminescent, some click beetles exhibit this characteristic to attract prey or repel predators.

  • Mimicry examples:
    • Eastern Eyed Click Beetle’s black spots mimicking eyes
  • Bioluminescent examples:
    • Glowing Click Beetle (Pyrophorus spp.)

Predators and Flies

Eastern Eyed Click Beetles have a range of natural predators, including birds and small mammals. Their larvae, known as wireworms, grow in decaying logs and prey on wood-boring beetles’ grubs. One potential predator that may be deterred by the black spots is the bird fly, a type of parasitic fly.

Comparison Table: Eastern Eyed Click Beetle vs. Glowing Click Beetle

Feature Eastern Eyed Click Beetle Glowing Click Beetle
Click Mechanism Yes Yes
Mimicry Yes (eye spots) No
Bioluminescent No Yes
Predators Birds, Small mammals Birds, Small mammals
Prey/Larval Diet Wood-boring beetle grubs Insects, Larvae

Impact on Human Environment

Pest Infestation and Crops

Eastern eyed click beetles (Alaus oculatus) are generally not considered major pests in agricultural settings. Their larvae, commonly referred to as wireworms, feed on the grubs of longhorn beetles found in decaying logs. Although they occasionally infest crops, a few instances are minimal.

Example of impacted crops:

  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Potatoes

Characteristics of wireworm infestation:

  • Irregular plant growth
  • Yellowing of leaves
  • Dead plants

Pesticides and Control Measures

Control measures for click beetle and wireworm infestations in crops begin with regular monitoring. It is essential to recognize and address any potential infestations to limit crop loss.

Methods for monitoring:

  • Soil examination
  • Bait stations
  • Sticky traps

When the infestation is confirmed, applying appropriate pesticides is the next step. Remember to use label directions as a guideline for proper pesticide application.

Pros of using pesticides:

  • Control infestations effectively
  • Protect crop yield

Cons of using pesticides:

  • Harmful to non-target species
  • May lead to pesticide resistance
Method Pros Cons
Soil examination Allows early detection Time-consuming
Bait stations Easy to monitor May need frequent replacement
Sticky traps Non-toxic May capture non-target species

In summary, the eastern eyed click beetle plays a minor role in impacting the human environment. While its larvae, referred to as wireworms, can infest crops, they are not significant pests. Crop monitoring and appropriate pesticide use serve as effective control measures.

Conservation and Habitat

Natural Environment

The Eastern Eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus) is primarily found in the eastern parts of the U.S and Canada. They are commonly seen in:

  • Deciduous forests
  • Wooded areas
  • Grasslands

These beetles are known for their ability to fly and their distinctive black spots near their head that resemble eyes.

Woodlands and Grasses

In woodlands and grassy environments, Eastern Eyed Click Beetle usually thrive in areas where:

  • Decaying logs are present
  • Longhorn beetle grubs are abundant

They require such habitats, as their larvae feed on these beetle grubs found in decaying logs 1(https://hgic.clemson.edu/eastern-eyed-click-beetle/).

Role in Ecosystem

Eastern Eyed Click Beetles play a significant role in the ecosystem:

  • They help break down decaying wood
  • They control longhorn beetle grub populations

Their presence in woodlands and grasslands also serves as an indication of a healthy ecosystem.

Links to other sections related to Eastern Eyed Click Beetles are as follows:

  • Diet and Predators
  • Reproduction and Lifecycle
  • Pest Control and Prevention

Footnotes

  1. https://hgic.clemson.edu/eastern-eyed-click-beetle/ 2 3

  2. https://extensionentomology.tamu.edu/insects/click-beetle/ 2

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 – BUG OF THE MONTH AUGUST 2009: EYED ELATER

 

Black Beetle
July 26, 2009
I’m wondering if you can help me identify this. It was probably a little over an inch long. It was in my driveway, I live in Southern New Jersey not too far from the coast.
Suzann
New Jersey

Eyed Elater
Eyed Elater

Dear Suzann,
Congratulations on being selected Bug of the Month for August 2009, though your letter will not be posted live until August 1.  This is an Eyed Elater, Alaus oculatus
, a large distinctive species of Click Beetle.  Click Beetles get their name from their ability, when they find themselves on their back, to snap their body at the joint, propelling themselves into the air sometimes for quite a distance, and flipping around to land on their feet.  According to BugGuide, the Eyed Elater is found in “Eastern and central North America–widespread. South Dakota east to Quebec, south to Texas, Florida.”  BugGuide also indicates that “Adults may take some nectar and plant juices. Larvae are predatory, eating grubs of wood-boring beetles like cerambycids (longhorns)” and “Eggs are laid in soil. Larvae predators of beetle larvae in decaying wood, especially hardwoods. Pupation is in unlined cell underground or in rotting wood. Adults come to lights.”  The eyespots of the Eyed Elater act as a protection against predators like birds which may think the beetle is actually a snake.  We have been getting numerous requests for the identification of Eyed Elaters this summer.

Letter 2 – Eyed Elater

 

Big false eyed flyer
Hi Bug-folk,
I was buzzed by this loud flyer while watering my blueberries. He landed in the raspberry thicket. Luckily I had my camera. What is it? Area: Philadelphia, PA Date: 6/8/08 around noon I love your site! Thanks!
mark

Hi Mark,
This is a Click Beetle known as the Eyed Elater.

Letter 3 – Eyed Elater

 

playing possum
This bug looks like my driveway. I knew it was dead, but the kids insisted it moved. It played possum for over 30 minutes. It rattled around the jar like a shell of a cicada. No sign of life. Then it got busy and wanted out. Are those eyes on it’s back? Thanks so much–what a fabulous website. I had nightmares, but my kids were thrilled!
Suzannah

Hi Suzannah,
Nice photo of an Eyed Elater, one of the Click Beetles. The markings on the beetle are Ocelli, the plural of Ocellus, a False Eye Spot. The true eyes are much smaller. This is a form of protective mimicry, with the spots startling birds and other predators.

Letter 4 – Eyed Elater

 

moth or not?
Hi,
The black & white moth like thing was near my house in Houston TX and the other on the upper side of the picutre was about 11⁄2 in. long if not longer and came out of the sand pile at the bottom of the picutre. Any help would be greatly appreciated as I have 3 kids going in and out of the house and in the back yard. Thanks,
So

Hi There So,
This image is not a moth, but an Eyed Elater, a species of Click Beetle, so named beause of the ability to flip themselves onto their feet if caught on their backs which produces a clicking noise. The flying insect is a Cicada Killer, the subject of countless recent letters, many from Texas, as also the subject of its own information page on our site.

Letter 5 – Eyed Elater

 

Eyed Elator
I found this one on my back porch last Friday (June 1st) I found your sight and it looks like the Eyed Elator. I have NEVER seen it before and was wondering if it was uncommon for it to be in Massachusetts? Thanx for the sight it is really great.
Jessica

Hi Jessica,
Most of our reports of Eyed Elaters are from the South, but BugGuide lists submissions from New England and as far norht as Canada.

Letter 6 – Eyed Elater

 

Eyed Elator
Hi There,
I thought you might be interested in this guy! I found a relative on your web site, but noticed it said that these guys were usually found in the south west… Well, we found this one in the North East, haha. It flew into a light pole and fell to the ground at our local park. This Eyed Elator was found in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania which is located about 60 miles north of Philadelphia.
Dan Harrier

Hi Dan,
Thanks for sending in your great photo of an Eyed Elater with scale reference.

Letter 7 – Eyed Elater

 


Hi, Can you tell me what type of beetle this is?
Thanks,
Kim

Hi Kim,
This gorgeous beetle is known as the Eyed Elater. It is one of the click beetles.

Letter 8 – Eyed Elater

 

What’s This Bug?
I found this bug on my walkway, almost stepped on it. What does it eat? Is it common for Connecticut? It’s so cuute.
Peggy

Hi Peggy,
This is an Eyed Elater, one of the Click Beetles.

Letter 9 – Eyed Elater

 

odd bug
Please see if you can identify this bug I found it in North Texas (Dallas) Area It is sitting on a piece of steel with dried mud I do not know if it changed colors to match the background I put it on a piece of paper hoping for a better photo From just searching on the net I think it’s some type of cicada P.S. it’s still alive Thank you
Ray Long

Hi Ray,
This is not a Cicada, but a Beetle. It is an Eyed Elater and they do not change colors. Eyed Elaters are Click Beetles.

Letter 10 – Eyed Elater

 

Eyed Click Beetle, Red River Gorge, KY
I was able to identify this bug, but thought you might be interested in the photo. I found it while hiking in Red River Gorge in east-central KY.
Incidentally, I was using your site today to identify a big spider I found in my bedroom (and accidentally killed in the attempt to catch and release it- which is a big step for me as a recovering bugophobe). The spider turned out to be a brown recluse, so I feel less bad about its demise. But yall have definitely helped turn me from a indoor bug smusher (if they’re outside they’re okay) to a live-and-let-liver or a return-to-the-outdoors-er. So thank you!!
Carrie
Central Kentucky

Eyed Elater
Eyed Elater

Hi Carrie,
Thanks for sending in your photo of an Eyed Elater, one of the largest Click Beetles in the U.S.  We are also quite pleased to hear that our site has contributed to your insect tolerance.

Letter 11 – Beetle Grub may be Eyed Elater

 

Subject: Unknown Beautiful Creey Crawly
Location: Forest Lake, MN
November 1, 2015 8:33 pm
Hey, Dan! I hope this finds you and your family doing well!
I was at a friends house today and they were splitting old Red Oak for the winter. We came across this beauty, burrowed what looked like about 4 inches into the tree trunk. It’s about 2 inches long. I’m sorry I didn’t get a photo of it when it came out of the hole eventually. I thought I got enough photos but I guess not. Do you have any idea what it could be? I usually check your site before I ask, but I don’t know if it’s larvae, pupae, or what. We are all dying to find out! I feel bad that it’s probably now going to die, but perhaps an opossum with find a tasty meal.
Signature: carpwoman

Beetle Grub
Beetle Grub

Dear Carpwoman,
This is some species of Beetle Grub, and we followed up on our initial suspicion that this might be the larva of an Eyed Elater, and we believe we are correct.  Images on both BugGuide and Bug Eric confirm our suspicions.  According to Bug Eric:  “Larvae of all Alaus species live in decaying wood where they prey on the larvae and pupae of other kinds of beetles.  These ginat ‘wireworms’ have strong jaws and should be handled carefully, if at all.”  According to BugGuide:  ” larvae in decaying hardwood or pine wood, esp. in decaying roots.  Food Larvae feed on larvae and pupae of various insects, esp. beetles.”  The much more commonly encountered adult form of the Eyed Elater or Eyed Click Beetle is a large beetle with false eyespots.

Thank you for such a speedy response!  It’s nice to see this beautiful grub would have (hopefully still will) turned into such a cool beetle.
Joanne

 

Authors

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  • 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.

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  • 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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8 thoughts on “Do Eastern Eyed Click Beetles Bite? Debunking the Myth”

  1. Other parents out there might be interested to know that the eyed elater is the bug in Eric Carle’s “The Very Clumsy Click Beetle.” Carle’s was a bit more colorful, though. 🙂

    Reply
  2. I found an Eyed Elater on my patio a couple of days ago. I live in Brights Grove Ontario Canada on the South East Shore of Lake Huron.

    Reply
  3. I was at my bird feeder today and one of these Eyed Elaters was flying by and landed on it, so I had to check it out.
    Indianola Nebraska

    Reply
  4. I saw one in Scottsboro Alabama today near the river. First time I have ever seen one of those bugs. Very strange looking beetle.

    Reply

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