The odd but
fascinating photograph on the opposite page was taken to John C. Pallister,
entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History. Shapely tomatoes,
roving eyes, driftwood, sand crabs, empty whisky bottles, howling infants and
surf casters are all common to beaches but this seemed to be something out of
the ordinary, neither flotsam nor jetsam.
said Mr. Pallister, examining the picture, "is Calosoma scrutator, the
green caterpillar hunter. It is a member of the Carabidae, the ground beetle
family. It ranges over the entire eastern United States, although in prairie
country it tends to be replaced by Calosoma calidum, which is black with golden
spots. Frequently it flies over water and drops in. It can stand a lot of
specimen could easily have fallen into the ocean and gotten washed ashore. Or
it could have been running around on the sand hunting for food."
He raised a
magnifying glass to one eye.
"It seems to
have lost one tarsus—no, there it is. But it has lost a part of one antenna.
Ordinarily the green caterpillar hunter likes to climb trees for caterpillars.
Inchworms are its favorite food. The grubs of this beetle live under leaves,
humus and beach drift and prey on other insects.
"Do you find
many insects on beaches?" he was asked. Mr. Pallister smiled
place by day as well as by night," he said. "There is plenty going on.
The casual observer wouldn't see much. They're there but you have to look for
Leaning back in
his swivel chair and locking his hands behind his head, Mr. Pallister proceeded
to give an entomologist's version of the seashore. Sometimes it was a grim
picture featuring death struggles in the insect world. At other times it was
filled with bug song. There was intrigue and there was beauty.
It appears that
the beach is a place haunted by insect predators. The great, gray robber flies
sit on the sand watching with bulging, expressionless eyes for something to
move. When it does, they pounce on it with the fury of a saber-toothed tiger.
Robber flies often catch their prey in mid-air. They seize it with their legs,
plunge their beaks into it and kill it with a potent injection. They even
overwhelm bees, getting them from behind and knocking them out before they have
a chance to strike back.
damsel flies dance in the sunlight above the beach while below them beetles
crawl. It may be Calosoma scrutator on the prowl but more likely wandering
Colorado potato beetles, lady beetles or weevils. Tiger beetles, some of them
greener than emerald, are at home on the beach or near sandy areas. The larva
of the tiger beetles has a neat trick for feeding itself. It lurks in a burrow
with its head and mandibles just filling the surface opening. When some
unsuspecting bug walks over it—whammo!—it snatches the victim in its jaws and
retires for a subterranean meal. It also has hooks on its abdomen which lock
into the wall of the burrow.