Oil Beetles

Subject: What kind of Insect is this?
Location: East Hampton, NY
November 18, 2012 7:20 pm
Took this in the garden in East Hampton, NY on Nov. 17, 2012. We have a big vegetable garden, and while harvesting some fall crops we encountered many of these. They were near the escarole. Never seen them before in 25 years of gardening. When you touch them it seemed like they would lay down and play dead. Also appeared as idvthey were mating. Very interested in knowing what they are…
Signature: Edward Del Gado

Oil Beetles

Hi Edward,
These are Oil Beetles, a type of Blister Beetle in the genus
Meloe.  Blister Beetles should be handled with caution as they produce a compound cantharidin that can cause blistering in human skin.  Your submission will go live in the next week as we are preparing postings on a daily basis in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Daniel… Thnaks so much for the response.  Why did they suddenly appear?  Do they come from underground?

Hi again Edward,
BugGuide has this nice description of the life cycle:  “First-instar larvae climb to the top of a grass or weed stalk as a group, clump together in the shape of a female solitary ground bee, exude a scent that is the same as, or closely resembles, the pheromones of the female bee, and wait for a male ground bee to come along. When he does, he tries to mate with the clump of larvae, whereupon they individually clamp onto his hairs. He then flies away, finds and mates with one or several real female bees, and the larvae transfer to the female(s).  Each impregnated female bee then flies off and builds one to several nests in burrows she digs in the soil, and the larvae transfer again to the new nests. The female bee stocks these nests with honey and pollen for her own young, but the hungry blister beetle young are there to gobble up the provisions. They eventually pupate and finally emerge as adult flightless beetles. Brothers and sisters find each other and mate, produce eggs and the hatchlings start the process all over.”  Pupation is underground, so adults will emerge from underground when they complete metamorphosis.

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