Beetle bonanza: how long will they stick around?

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 10:38 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - After a phenomenal Monsoon, the desert is crawling with life. It’s a bug bonanza out there! The Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona has received several identification requests. It’s also become the talk of social media and neighborhood groups.

The recent butterfly boom has brought something else: beetles.

“The common name is caterpillar hunters, which is an apt, very descriptive name,” said Katy Prudic, an ecology professor at the University of Arizona.

Prudic studies pollinators and their relationships with other organisms.

“I think the classic example in ecology is the snowshoe hare and the lynx,” she said. “So, the prey is always a little bit ahead of the predators.”

According to Prudic, butterflies and moths reached their peak population a couple weeks ago. That’s why we are seeing so many caterpillar hunters now.

“They run around at night and eat unsuspecting caterpillars,” she said.

Caterpillar hunters hunker down during the day. Being out in direct sunlight can turn deadly for the insect.

“If they sort of run into something and get flipped over and are on the hard concrete, they have a hard time,” said Prudic. “They need a stick or something to flip over. What happens is they just get dehydrated and sort of perish.”

Caterpillar hunters are not harmful to humans. Prudic says you don’t have to worry about them transmitting disease, however, some people may notice a slight odor.

“Maybe they are signaling to a mate,” she said. “Maybe they are trying to deter a predator from eating them, maybe they are communicating with each other to establish territory.”

Palo Verde beetles have also made an appearance. They feast on tree roots and sometimes fruit. Like the caterpillar hunters, Palo Verde beetles are here for a good time, not a long time. Their sole mission is to find food and a mate.

Prudic says the best way to keep beetles at bay without the use of chemicals is to turn your outdoor lights off. That tends to attract caterpillar hunters at night. Using a rope or a stick to connect your pool deck with the water will also allow stranded beetles to find a way out.

“Probably by the time you figure out what to do, they are going to be on the decline,” said Prudic. “We are already seeing a decline in adult butterflies. My guess is you won’t see them again until next year in a couple weeks.”

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