The Elated Snapping Beetle (Nature’s Jack-In-The-Box)

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Have you ever been out watching nature and that distinct feeling that nature was watching you back? It it looks like the tree in tonight’s feature image has grown a set of eyes, well, there’s a good reason why. Hiding in a crevice of the cork is the elated snapping beetle. It’s one of the largest insects native to the Appalachian Mountains. And, it has a few tricks up one of six sleeves.

The large eye spots on its thorax are thought to be there to detour predators. After all, they do resemble the large sad eyes of a cartoon character begging not to be eaten. But if that fails to work. It falls down and plays dead. Depending on its thick armored shell for protection. At least for a few minutes. It rolls over onto it’s back and curls up it’s antenna with it’s legs folded. Then at some point it changes the game and goes into Jack-In-The-Box mode. With a loud click it pops up into the air! Even as a full grown adult it’s enough to stun you when you’re not expecting it. It’s able to do this because of the hooks and notches on its shell that turn it into a spring.

The one in the photo is about average size for it’s species. About two inches long. They’re harmless to humans so I picked it up and let it play dead in my hand.

The Elated Snapping Beetle in my hand for a size comparison.

They belong to a group of beetles that bore into trees and live as larvae. Some members of the group are believed to live as a larvae for 50 years or more!

While the Elated Snapping Beetle has no bioluminescence that I’m aware of they are a first cousin to the tropical headlight beetle who’s eye spots are more foreword and produce enough light that they have been used as an emergency light for surgeries. They’re also related to what we call lightning bugs in Appalachia. ( fireflies in other places)

I was a little excited to see this one because I had not seen one of these giant clicking beetles since I was a kid. I’m sure that they have been around but I had not spotted one.

Other members of the group can be pretty destructive. One prime example would be the powderpost beetles which can be as damaging as termites. Dutch Elm disease is transmitted by wood boring beetles and the North American Chestnut is nearly extinct because of wood boring beetles.

However, there’s a bit of innocent fun when a young boy dares his friends to touch the dead beetle and it pops up at just the right moment.

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5 thoughts on “The Elated Snapping Beetle (Nature’s Jack-In-The-Box)

    1. I don’t see them very often. Usually I see little brown ones that are maybe a half of an inch long.
      The eyes are pretty unique. We have a caterpillar with a similar pattern and of course the wings on certain moths and butterflies but the beetle is the one that most looks most like it’s watching you.


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