There are about 400,000 species of beetles, which make up 25% of all existing animal species. The larva of the darkling beetle is referred to as a “false wireworm.” Wireworm larvae, named for their long slender form, are in a different beetle family. The darkling false wireworm grubs have longer legs and antennae than wireworms. Darkling beetles are members of the Tenebrionidae family and larvae feed on plant matter, including roots, stems, and seeds. They may cause damage to crops. Females lay up to 100 eggs in soft soil in spring and produce a second batch of eggs later in summer. The grub larvae are called mealworms, though they are not true worms. Larvae pupate for about 2 weeks, emerging as adult beetles. Adult beetles are scavengers, also feeding on seeds and other plant matter. Adults can live several years.

This is the most common beetle I see along trails in the East Mountains. It is a fast moving beetle, about 1-1/2 inches in length and totally black. Adults do not fly. The outer wings (elytra) are thick and fused, forming a protective armor. Most other beetle species are able to fly and in those cases the thickened elytra are raised and held above the second membranous pair of wings which unfold and are used to create lift and thrust. Flying beetles also spread the legs in flight and move them to initiate turns.

The Eleodes darkling beetle is commonly seen in a vertical posture with the tip of the head near the ground and the body extending upward, in a kind of headstand. The posture is thought to aid dispersal of defensive chemicals from the end of the abdomen, rather than to represent the beetle eating something on the ground, which is what it appears to be doing. The unpleasant smell of the pheromones results in the name “stink bug” or “stink beetle” sometimes being applied to this insect.

Mealworm larvae and adults are eaten by a variety of predators, including birds, reptiles, and small mammals. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization encourages human consumption of some insect groups, including mealworms. Insects provide protein, vitamins, and minerals on par with those nutrients found in fish and meat. The UN states that insects are regularly consumed as food in some 36 African countries, 23 countries in the Americas, 29 in Asia, and 11 European countries. Mealworm care.org states that dry roasted mealworms can be salted or dipped in chocolate and eaten as a snack, sprinkled on salads, and added to soup. The roasted mealworms allegedly taste a lot like peanuts and can replace nuts in cookies, cakes, and other desserts. Since roasted worms are brittle, they can also be ground and mixed with flour and baked into muffins, pancakes, or bread. The different ways these insects can be added to recipes is almost limitless, so they say. Dried mealworms contain 53% protein, 28% fats and 6% f iber.

Photos taken in the Cibola National forest and Albuquerque Open Space area at Oak Flats using a Nikon P900 camera.

James Taulman
James Taulman

James Taulman is a retired wildlife ecologist who enjoys exploring New Mexico’s natural areas and observing the state’s diverse wildlife. Find him online at researchgate.net and youtube.com.
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