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Violet Oil Beetle : The Hitchhiker From Hell

The violet oil beetle (Meloe violaceus) is our way into a discussion of leaky leg joints, toxic oil, aphrodisiacs, the cantharidin world, hitch-hiking, egg-laying on an industrial scale and hypermetamorphosism. There are not many animals that better illustrate just how weird and wonderful Nature can get …

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Read on for photos and links that’ll help you explore the weird and wonderful world of the oil beetles …

Here’s the Violet Oil Beetle, cunningly disguising it’s deeply unusual habits and life by looking for all the world like just another blackish beetle:

And here is the hitchhiker itself, the triungulin larva of that beetle above:


Photo by Janet Graham CC BY 2.0

And here’s a chance to play spot the triungulin. A close up of a solitary bee (i.e. the correct target species!) with a hitchhiker in place:


Photo by Janet Graham CC BY 2.0

For basic info on the violet oil beetle, check out the excellent Buglife page.

For basic info on other topics mentioned in the episode, try these:

Cantharidin

Phoresy

Hypermetamorphosis

And (if you dare) Spanish Fly.

And this, by the way, is what hypermetamorphosis actually looks like (in a related species, not actually the violet oil beetle – but it’s a species with essentially the same life cycle, so the forms are the same). Triungulin on the left, through various stages to adult beetle at bottom right:

And should you want to delve a bit more deeply into some of the topics:

You can access a PDF (in English) covering just about the full range of known canthariphilous insects, and speculating on why they like cantharidin so much, here: Hemp, Dr Claudia & Dettner, Konrad. (2001). Compilation of canthariphilous insects. Beiträge zur Entomologie. 51. 231-245.

Midges hassling violet oil beetles is recorded here: Turner, Clive & Mann, Darren. (2003). Atrichopogon (Meloehelea) winnertzi Goetghebuer (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) feeding on Meloe violaceus Marsham (Coleoptera: Meloidae). British Journal of Entomology & Natural History. 16. 7-9.

A look at the lives and prodiguous egg-laying abilities of various oil beetles is over here (i.e. you can download the PDF): Lückmann, Johannes & Assmann, Thorsten. (2005). Reproductive biology and strategies of nine meloid beetles from Central Europe (Coleoptera: Meloidae). Journal of Natural History. 39. 4101-4125.

Music

Opening & Closing Themes: Running Waters and Acoustic Meditation by Audionautix (Jason Shaw), from audionautix.com. CC BY 3.0.

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