Eastern Eyed Click Beetle: All You Need to Know in a Quick Guide

The eastern eyed click beetle is a fascinating insect that can be found throughout the eastern United States. Known scientifically as Alaus oculatus, it is easily recognizable by its unique appearance.

This beetle grows up to almost 2 inches in length and features two large black spots near its head, which bear a striking resemblance to eyes. These eye-like spots are believed to scare away potential predators, offering the insect a clever form of protection. The eastern eyed click beetle is not just aesthetically interesting; it also possesses a remarkable ability to right itself when accidentally flipped onto its back. Utilizing a clicking mechanism, it swiftly snaps its body into the air, landing upright and ready to continue with its day.

As for their habitat, eastern eyed click beetles thrive in deciduous forests where the larvae have ample food supply, growing inside decaying logs and preying on longhorn beetle grubs. As adults, these beetles go on to play a vital role in forest ecosystems, helping with the decomposition process and contributing to overall forest health.

Eastern Eyed Click Beetle Overview

Scientific Classification

The Eastern Eyed Click Beetle belongs to the species Alaus oculatus and is a member of the family Elateridae.

Common Names

  • Eastern Eyed Click Beetle
  • Eyed Elater

Physical Description

  • Size: Adults can be up to 1¾ inches long.
  • Color: Predominantly black with two large eyespots near their head.
  • Elytra: The beetle’s hardened forewings protect its delicate hind wings.
  • Eyes: The eyespots on the pronotum can deter predators, while the true eyes are smaller and positioned behind the antennae.

Distribution and Habitat

  • Location: Found across North America, especially in the eastern regions.
  • Habitat: These beetles reside in deciduous forests and woodlands.
  • Larvae: They grow in decaying logs and prey on longhorn beetle grubs.

The Eastern Eyed Click Beetle, scientifically known as Alaus oculatus, is a distinctive insect native to North American forests, particularly in the eastern parts. This beetle belongs to the family Elateridae and is also commonly known as the eyed elater. Its striking characteristic is the two large eyespots near its head, which serve to intimidate potential predators.

The adult beetles can grow up to 1¾ inches long, with a predominantly black body. Their hardened forewings, called elytra, protect their delicate hind wings. The eyespots on the pronotum, coupled with their smaller true eyes positioned behind the antennae, create a unique appearance.

Eastern Eyed Click Beetles can be found in deciduous forests or woodlands across North America. These habitats provide ample decaying logs for the larvae to grow in while hunting longhorn beetle grubs as their source of sustenance.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Eggs and Larvae

The eastern eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) starts its life as an egg. The females lay their eggs in the environment, such as in decaying wood or vegetation, where the larvae can find an abundance of food like grubs and longhorn beetle larvae once they hatch 1. The larval stage of this species is called “wireworm,” and they have the following features:

  • Hard-bodied
  • Brown color
  • ½ to 2½ inches long
  • Cylindrical shape
  • Elongated body with tiny true legs behind the head 2.

Pupa Stage

As the wireworms grow and reach the end of their larval stage, they enter the pupa stage. This stage prepares them for becoming adult beetles, and they develop the distinct physical characteristics associated with eastern eyed click beetles. Although information on their pupal stage is limited, it is known that they undergo metamorphosis within the habitat where they were laid as eggs, such as decaying logs or other plant materials.

Adult Eastern Eyed Click Beetle

Once the pupa stage is complete, the eastern eyed click beetle emerges as an adult, displaying their most striking features – the eyespots. They have an elongated body, a pair of true eyes, a pronotum with false eyes (eyespots), and wings concealed under mottled gray wing covers 3. Here are some characteristics of adult eastern eyed click beetles:

  • Size: up to 1¾ inches long
  • Distinct false eyes (eyespots) on the pronotum
  • Real eyes much smaller than the eyespots
  • Antennae present
  • Unique click mechanism for righting themselves when turned over 4

As adults, eastern eyed click beetles can be found in various habitats like do this and do that (with examples), such as deciduous forests in the United States, especially in the eastern regions, where they play a beneficial role by preying on pests and contributing to a balanced ecosystem 5.

Comparison Table

Larva (Wireworm) Adult Eastern Eyed Click Beetle
Hard-bodied False eyes (eyespots) on the pronotum
Brown color Mottled gray wings
½ to 2½ inches long Up to 1¾ inches long
Elongated body Elongated body
Tiny true legs behind the head Antennae and real eyes present

While the eastern eyed click beetles’ general life cycle is similar to other beetle species, their unique features and abilities, such as the eyespots and click mechanism, set them apart and warrant further studies to better understand their role in ecosystems and potential benefits to the environment.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Larval Diet

Eastern eyed click beetle larvae, commonly known as wireworms, primarily feed on other insects. They are known for their predatory nature and play a key role in controlling pests. For instance, they prey on:

  • Wood-boring beetles
  • Other insect larvae

Wireworms are usually found in decaying wood in woodlands or gardens and use their strong jaws to consume their prey.

Adult Eastern Eyed Click Beetle Diet

Adult eastern eyed click beetles have a different diet compared to their larval stage. They primarily consume:

  • Nectar
  • Plant juices
  • Occasionally, pollen

Although they are not considered significant pests, their feeding on plant materials can have some impact on home gardens. However, it is important to note that they are not a major threat to crops like corn, unlike some other click beetle species.

The difference in diets between the larval and adult stages is summarized in the table below:

Stage Diet
Larva Wood-boring beetles, other insect larvae
Adult Nectar, plant juices, occasionally pollen

To summarize, eastern eyed click beetle larvae are beneficial predators, helping control pests in woodlands and gardens. Adult beetles, on the other hand, feed on nectar and plant juices and have a minimal impact on home gardens and crops.

Behavior and Defence Mechanisms

Eyespots and Mimicry

The eastern eyed click beetle has two large black spots near its head, resembling eyes. This is a form of mimicry, intended to:

  • Scare away predators
  • Make the beetle appear larger

These false eyes are located on their pronotum, while their actual eyes are much smaller and positioned behind the antennae.

Clicking Mechanism

Eastern eyed click beetles have a unique ability to snap their bodies, producing an audible click sound. This mechanism helps them:

  • Right themselves when upside down
  • Propel themselves into the air

The clicking sound can also deter predators, adding to their defense strategies.

Feature Eastern Eyed Click Beetle Other Click Beetles
Click sound Yes Yes
Eyespots Yes No
False eyes On the pronotum N/A

Flight and Wings

The eastern eyed click beetle is capable of flying, thanks to its wings. Here are some essential facts about their wings:

  • Covered with scales
  • Help them move from one location to another
  • Used primarily when under threat or in need of escape

In conclusion, the eastern eyed click beetle employs a combination of mimicry, clicking mechanisms, and flight to protect itself from predators and navigate its environment.

Pest Control and Benefits

Eastern Eyed Click Beetle as Agricultural Pests

Eastern eyed click beetles (Alaus oculatus) are not considered major agricultural pests. However, their larvae, known as wireworms, can sometimes cause damage to crops. Wireworms are hard-bodied, cylindrical, and can grow up to 2½ inches long1. Some common crops they may damage include:

  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Potatoes

While they can cause damage, these beetles are not the primary concern for farmers in terms of pests.

Chemical Pesticides vs. Natural Methods

Managing wireworm infestations can be done using chemical pesticides or natural methods. Both have their pros and cons:

Method Pros Cons
Chemicals Effective in eliminating wireworms Harmful to environment and non-target organisms
Natural Environmentally friendly; safe for soil health May not provide complete control; takes more effort

Beneficial Aspects of Eastern Eyed Click Beetle

Eastern eyed click beetles can be beneficial to environments in several ways:

  • Decomposer: The larvae, wireworms, decompose organic matter in the soil. They contribute to nutrient cycling and soil health, promoting plant growth in gardens and natural ecosystems2.

  • Predator: Adults and larvae are known to prey on longhorn beetle grubs, helping control this potential pest. This characteristic makes them beneficial insects to home gardens and forests.

To summarize, eastern eyed click beetles can be both beneficial and harmful to agricultural environments, though their impact as pests is minimal compared to other insects. In many cases, their role in decomposing organic material and preying on harmful pests outweighs their potential harm, making them valuable contributors to garden and forest ecosystems.

Footnotes

  1. Eyed Click Beetle (Eyed Elater) – MDC Teacher Portal 2

  2. Click Beetle / Wireworm – Texas A&M University 2

  3. Eyed Elator | NC State Extension Publications

  4. Eastern Eyed Click Beetle | Home & Garden Information Center

  5. Click Beetle/Wireworm – Texas A&M University

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 – Eyed Elater

 

grey and white and black!
Thu, May 7, 2009 at 7:56 PM
I live in Central Florida, and was walking into a burger king in New symrna beach florida (central east coast) and i looked down and spotted this bug looking right back at me. went in to use the bathroom and came back and he was still there, in the same spot
April Diamond
Florida, US

Eyed Elater
Eyed Elater

Hi April,
Your letter is so amusing.  This Eyed Elater was not really looking back at you.  It just appears to be looking back at you.  What you think are eyes are just eyespots.  These eyespots help to discourage predators, especially birds.  The birds see the large “eyes” and think a far larger creature is at hand, possibly a snake.  Eyed Elaters are Click Beetles that can right themselves if they are on their back by snapping their bodies, propelling themselves into the air, and flipping to land right side up.

Letter 2 – Eyed Elater

 

Big Eyed Click Beetle
Thu, Feb 5, 2009 at 7:25 PM
I found this large beetle today. I assume it is a Big Eyed Click Beetle? It may have been too cold out today for it to click and turn itself over.
Fred
Central Florida

Eyed Elater
Eyed Elater

Hi Fred,
You are correct.  This is an Eyed Elater, Alaus oculatus, which is also called an Eyed Click Beetle.  We are not certain why your individual didn’t “click” itself upright, but we do know that the larger Elaters are not as proficient at the clicking maneuver as are some of its smaller, less colorful relatives.

Eyed Elater
Eyed Elater

Letter 3 – Eyed Elater

 

Beetle
Tue, Feb 3, 2009 at 4:51 AM
This rather large beetle / bug (while in flight) flew directly into my head, bounced off, and landed in the grass. Thankfully, neither of us suffered injury other than severe startle! I picked it up out of the grass, and after a few seconds rest on my palm, it flew off. What is the name of this beetle? Thanks.
Jay W
Eastern NC Pitt County

Eyed Elater
Eyed Elater

Dear Jay,
What a positively gorgeous photo of an Eyed Elater, Alaus oculatus, one of the Click Beetles, preparing to take flight.  Your photo nicely depicts a defining characteristic of beetles which have two pairs of wings like most insects, but have the upper wings hardened into wing covers known as elytra.  It is the soft under wings that are the flying wings.  This is the second letter we have received with stunning images of an Eyed Elater this week and it makes us a bit sad we did not select it as the Bug of the Month.  We are seriously considering making this strikingly attractive beetle the Bug of the Month for March. Thanks for you wonderful contribution.

Eyed Elater
Eyed Elater

Letter 4 – Eyed Elater

 


Sir or Ma’am,
Can you tell me what type of bug I have attached to this email? The specimen was found outside of Sanford, N.C. May 15, 2008. It is approximately 1.50 inches long and has 6 legs; if you press on its torso, a stinger (maybe??) will extend approximately an 1/8 th of an inch.
Bill

Hi Bill,
Your beetle is a Click Beetle known as the Eyed Elater. The stinger you describe is the female’s ovipositor.

Letter 5 – Eyed Elater

 

Black and white???
Sat, May 30, 2009 at 5:37 PM
I found this bug on me the other day when I was down in the woods…I live in Pennsylvania so it didnt surprise me to find a bug on me but when I took a closer look I realized I had NEVE%R seen this bug in my life. I googled it and couldnt find any information that was relevant.
Kyle Monaghan
Lancaster, PA

Eyed Elater
Eyed Elater

Hi Kyle,
The Eyed Elater is a large distinctive Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus, found in the Eastern and Central portions of North America according to BugGuide.

Letter 6 – Eyed Elater

 

Well-camoflaged Beetle
Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 9:57 AM
Hello, A friend and I were birding at Lake Ramapo State Forest in New Jersey ( about 25 miles from NYC) when we spotted this insect, about 3 inches long, clinging to the bark of a large deciduous tree. It had speckling on its back and underside, and most notably huge false eyes on its back, the like of which I’ve only seen before on certain butterflies and moths. Our best guess is that it is a beetle, but neither of us had ever seen a similar one before.
We would love to know what it is!
Dawn
Northern New Jersey

Eyed Elater
Eyed Elater

Hi Dawn,
We have never really thought of the Eyed Elater as being camouflaged because of those enormous eyespots that make it look like a snake to many birds or other predators.  We are sad we did not make the Eyed Elater, which is a large Click Beetle, the Bug of the Month for June, but we make select it for July.

Letter 7 – Eyed Elater

 

Could you ID this beetle for me?
January 31, 2010
I found this guy in a limb fallen from a tree in my side yard. I live in Orange county, NY. I’m not sure of the tree species but it is a hard wood. the beetle is about 1.5 inches long and has very distinctive black and white markings.
I also found round head wood borers in the same wood. The pictures are pretty good, hope you can help me out.
John Rankin
Orange countu, NY

Eyed Elater

Hi John,
This is a Click Beetle known as an Eyed Elater.

Letter 8 – Eyed Elater

 

Black and white close to 2″ long
May 25, 2010
Found this specimen in this condition, all legs and antenna folded into the body like a puzzle. Thought it was dead. Transported it, poked it and nothing happened. Suddenly there were antenna and shortly legs
Tracey Kasper
Bloomingdale New Jersey

Eyed Elater

Hi Tracey,
This large Click Beetle is known as an Eyed Elater.  They do “play opossum” and if caught on their backs, they are able to snap their bodies and flip into the air while making a clicking sound, which allows them to land on their feet.

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    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 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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