Why Are Bess Beetles So Strong? Uncovering Their Hidden Superpowers

Bess beetles are fascinating insects that have captivated the interest of many. These beetles, also known as Betsy beetles or patent leather beetles, can be found living in rotting wood.

With their impressive size of about 1 ½ inches long, they play a vital role in recycling decaying wood in their natural habitat. You might have wondered just why are bess beetles so strong? Well, let’s explore that further.

One reason behind their strength lies in their anatomy. Bess beetles showcase strong jaw muscles and robust mouthparts, allowing them to chew through tough materials like wood with ease.

Bess Beetle

This is crucial for their survival as they rely on wood as a food source and shelter for both adults and larvae. As they break down the wood, they recycle nutrients back into the environment, contributing to the natural ecosystem.

Moreover, bess beetles display remarkable cooperation and communication within their family groups.

They are one of the few insects known to utilize vocalizations for communication, producing sounds with their wings and abdomen.

This unique ability to work together and communicate effectively plays a part in their strength and success as a species.

Understanding Bess Beetles

Bess beetles, also known as Betsy beetles or horned passalus beetles, belong to the family Passalidae within the order Coleoptera.

They are interesting insects, notably due to their strength and unique features. Let’s explore some key characteristics of these fascinating beetles.

Features of Bess Beetles

  • Scientific name: Odontotaenius disjunctus
  • Common names: Bess beetle, Betsy beetle, horned passalus
  • Size: Adults are about 1 ½ inches (4 cm) long
  • Habitat: Decaying wood, where they help break down the material
  • Communication: Bess beetles produce low squeaking sounds through a process called stridulation

Bess beetles play an important role in their ecosystems as they help recycle rotting wood.

Both the adults and their larvae live in the decaying wood, with adults preparing the wood for the larvae by chewing on it first.

Bess Beetle

You might wonder why Bess beetles are considered strong. These insects have a robust exoskeleton and powerful mandibles, allowing them to break through tough wood fibers.

This strength is what makes them efficient recyclers of decaying wood, facilitating the decomposition process within their habitats.

In comparison to other insects, Bess beetles can be considered strong due to their size, exoskeleton, and mandibles. Their significant role in breaking down decaying wood highlights their strength in action.

Learning about Bess beetles helps you appreciate the fascinating world of insects and the importance of their contributions to natural ecosystems.

The Habitat of Bess Beetles

Primarily, these beetles are found in hardwood forests of the U.S., especially in North America.

You’ll likely find bess beetles in rotting hardwood logs that are primarily made up of oak, hickory, and maple trees.

These decaying logs serve as both a food source and a safe breeding ground for the beetles.

The rotting wood provides the essential nutrients and moisture that bess beetles require for their development.

While they are primarily found in temperate regions of North America, bess beetles can also be spotted in tropical areas.

However, their preference for rotting hardwood logs remains consistent across different geographical locations.

Below is a comparison table of bess beetle habitat preferences:

HabitatHardwood TreesRotting LogsGeographical Locations
Bess BeetlesOak, Hickory, MapleYes (preferred)U.S., North America, Tropics

In summary:

  • Bess beetles prefer hardwood forests with oak, hickory, and maple trees.
  • They are predominantly found in rotting hardwood logs.
  • Their geographical range includes temperate North America and tropical areas.
Bess Beetle

Physical Characteristics of Bess Beetles

Bess beetles, also known as betsy beetles, bessbugs, and patent leather beetles, have unique physical features that make them strong. Let’s explore some of their characteristics:

  • Size: You will find that these beetles can grow to be quite impressive in size, ranging up to 1.5 inches long.
  • Color: They have a glossy black appearance, which adds to their distinctiveness.

Bess beetles have some specific body parts that contribute to their strength:

  • Elytra: Similar to other beetles, bess beetles have hardened forewings called elytra. Their elytra feature deep grooves, providing added durability.
  • Head and mandibles: The head of a bess beetle features a small horn, giving them their “horned” nickname. Their powerful mandibles allow them to chew through rotting wood effectively.

To put things into perspective, here’s a comparison table of some of the main physical attributes of bess beetles:

AttributeDescription
SizeUp to 1.5 inches in length
ColorGlossy black
ElytraHardened forewings, grooved
HeadSmall horn, strong mandibles

Why Are Bess Beetles So Strong
Bess Beetle

The Sound of Bess Beetles

Bess beetles are fascinating creatures known for their ability to produce unique sounds, called stridulation, that play a big role in their communication, especially among their colony members.

Stridulation in Bess Beetles

Stridulation is produced by rubbing certain body parts together. Bess beetles use their wings and wing covers to create these sounds. You may wonder what these sounds mean. Well, let’s find out.

  • Alarm: Bess beetles emit a high-pitched sound when they sense danger, alerting their colony members to take protective actions.
  • Social Interaction: Some sounds serve as a greeting or initiation of social interactions between colony members, promoting cooperation and group cohesion.

Here’s a comparison table summarizing the sound qualities produced by bess beetles:

CharacteristicAlarm SoundsSocial Interaction Sounds
PitchHighLow to moderate
IntensityLoudSoft
DurationShortLonger

One interesting fact is that bess beetle larvae also produce sounds. These sounds help adult beetles locate them and provide assistance when needed.

Why Are Bess Beetles So Strong?

You might be surprised by the incredible strength of bess beetles. These small creatures have a lot of power packed into their tiny bodies.

They are often referred to as the “Olympic athletes” of the insect world due to their amazing abilities.

Bess beetles can carry loads that are many times their own body weight, similar to how Olympic weightlifters are able to lift considerable weight.

For example, imagine you could lift and carry a stack of pennies that weighs 50 times your body weight.

Their strength is attributed to a few factors:

  • Stockier body: Bess beetles have a more compact body design, which enables them to more efficiently exert force.
  • Stress-resilient exoskeleton: Their exoskeleton structure allows them to withstand significant amounts of pressure and strain.
  • Pulling strength: Bess beetles are exceptionally strong when it comes to pulling objects, which comes in handy when dragging large wood debris to feed on or build a shelter.

To give you an idea of how their strength compares to other insects, here’s a comparison table:

InsectLoad Capacity (times body weight)
Ant50
Bess Beetle100
Wasp5

This friendly reminder of their remarkable strength will give you a greater appreciation for these small but mighty beetles and their important role in our ecosystem.

Next time you encounter a bess beetle, take a moment to admire its impressive capabilities.

Bess Beetle

Ecology and Behavior of Bess Beetles

Bess beetles, also known as betsy beetles or horned passalus, have an interesting ecology and behavior.

They live in decaying wood, which serves as both food and shelter for them. You’ll often find these beetles in a family group, displaying subsocial behavior.

Now, let’s talk about their strength. Their large size, reaching up to 1½ inches in length, contributes to their strength.

Bess beetles are also known for their social behavior, living in colonies where they work together to break down rotting wood.

  • Ecological role: Bess beetles play an essential role in their ecosystem. They help recycle rotting wood, which is beneficial for the environment.
  • Communication: These beetles communicate with each other through different sounds. They produce these sounds with their wings, aiding in maintaining their social behavior.

In some cases, you can see mites on bess beetles. These mites have a symbiotic relationship with the beetles, feeding on fungi and debris found on the beetle’s body.

This is an example of physiological ecology, where organisms within an ecosystem interact in more complex ways.

Compared to vertebrates, bess beetles have simple social structures and communication. Their interactions mainly revolve around breaking down wood and raising their larvae.

However, their strength and ability to work together make them effective decomposers for their specific niche.

Bess Beetle

Conclusion

Bess beetles play a crucial role in the recycling of rotting wood, making them an essential organism to understand.

Their incredible strength is rooted in their body structure and they are able to achieve extraordinary feats such as lifting 100 times their weight.

But the fact is that these gentle creatures are harmless to humans and are excellent decomposers of wood that contribute positively to the ecological balance around them.

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Bess Beetles

Subject:  Beetle
Geographic location of the bug:  Lampeter PA
Date: 06/13/2018
Time: 01:57 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  What kind of beetle is this. It makes a hissing noise. It digs and buries itself in mulch.
How you want your letter signed:  Derek

Bess Beetles

Dear Derek,
These are Bess Beetles or Patent Leather Beetles,
Odontotaenius disjunctus, and they make sound by rubbing body parts together, a behavior known as stridulation.  Bess Beetles are among the most interesting Beetles in the world because of their unique care giving behavior toward their young.  According to BugGuide:  “Lifestyle of this family is unique for beetles: live in small colonies where larvae are cared for by adults of both sexes. Long life cycle, apparently more than one year. Larvae eat a rotting wood pre-chewed by adults. (Some references state larvae eat feces of adults as well.) Larvae and adults also cannibalize injured larvae.
Adults reported to fly very seldom, however they are capable of flight, contrary to statements in some sources. Adults are found at lights on occasion. They may disperse by walking, but have been observed flying under lights, and they are sometimes taken in light traps (MacGown and MacGown, 1996). A nuptial flight has been observed in Mississippi, with a group of 12-15 individuals flying at dusk, and one pair even mating in flight (MacGown and MacGown, 1996). Mating is also observed in the tunnels,…
Both adults and larvae stridulate, and this is said to serve as communication between them. Adults also stridulate when picked up, and especially, blown on. Adults stridulate by rubbing abdomen against the wings. Larvae stridulate with reduced third pair of legs–these scratch against other legs.

Bess Beetle

Letter 2 – Bess Bug

Could you tell us what this thing is?
It was almost 2” long – quite large – and making a sort of hissing noise. We found a tiny tick looking beetle crawling on it and did pry that off and kill it, whereupon the beetle settled down a bit, but still was making this noise. Husband found it on the ground behind a wooden berm. It was black with some fuzzy yellow-orange hairs on various legs and edging the shell toward the bottom. The head was somewhat scoop shaped, with little bumps all over it.
Thanks!
Teresa
Middleburg , FL

Hi Teresa,
Nice photos of a Bess Bug, the Horned Passalid Beetle, Odontotaenius disjunctus. These beetles live in communities in rotting wood. They do stridulate or make noise. The bumps on the head are actually a mite infestation, but a minor one.

Letter 3 – Bess Bug inquiry

Hi folks,
An FYI note.
Just discovered your site while shearching for info on “Bess Bugs” (i.e. beetles of family Passalidae). I noted two inquiries about mystery beetles on 10/15/03 and 11/1/03 that you identified as members of Passalidae. According to my copy of “A Manual of Common Beetles of Eastern North America”, the two beetles pictured are actually members of family Lucanidae, specifically, they appear to be similar to Ceruchus piceus. However, I realize that my book (given to me when I was about 8 for Christmas), may be out of date, and perhaps some reclassification has occurred. However, my personal experience with these particular beetles is that they don’t live in rotted wood, and tend to be predators in forest undergrowth, as opposed to the more common Passalidae, which I spent my childhood evicting from various logs. Their elytra do look more like bess bugs however.
Anyway, back to my actual work (protein crystallography, not sure where I went wrong).
Thanks,
D. Coleman

Dear D. Coleman,
Thank you for your editorial check. We just researched our misidentification in the book you cited by Dillon & Dillon and have come to the same conclusion that you did. Our edition states that they breed in decaying logs of beech, oak and other trees. Though we pride ourselves on copious research, we do make mistakes and want to thank you for bringing this error to our attention. We do not want to misinform our curious and often frightened readers.

Thanks for your response to my “Bess Bug” inquiry. I’d also like to complement you on an excellent site, and will use it in my continuing efforts to teach my wife not leave the county over every creature I find.
-David

Letter 4 – Bess Bug inquiry

Hi folks,
An FYI note.
Just discovered your site while shearching for info on “Bess Bugs” (i.e. beetles of family Passalidae). I noted two inquiries about mystery beetles on 10/15/03 and 11/1/03 that you identified as members of Passalidae. According to my copy of “A Manual of Common Beetles of Eastern North America”, the two beetles pictured are actually members of family Lucanidae, specifically, they appear to be similar to Ceruchus piceus. However, I realize that my book (given to me when I was about 8 for Christmas), may be out of date, and perhaps some reclassification has occurred. However, my personal experience with these particular beetles is that they don’t live in rotted wood, and tend to be predators in forest undergrowth, as opposed to the more common Passalidae, which I spent my childhood evicting from various logs. Their elytra do look more like bess bugs however.
Anyway, back to
my actual work (protein crystallography, not sure where I went wrong).
Thanks,
D. Coleman

Dear D. Coleman,
Thank you for your editorial check. We just researched our misidentification in the book you cited by Dillon & Dillon and have come to the same conclusion that you did. Our edition states that they breed in decaying logs of beech, oak and other trees. Though we pride ourselves on copious research, we do make mistakes and want to thank you for bringing this error to our attention. We do not want to misinform our curious and often frightened readers.

Thanks for your response to my “Bess Bug” inquiry. I’d also like to complement you on an excellent site, and will use it in my continuing efforts to teach my wife not leave the county over every creature I find.
-David

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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.

  • 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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