Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Click Beetle
Nature Bulletin No. 446-A   February 26, 1972
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Hardly a country boy or girl has not been entertained by the acrobatic performances of a long, straight-sided, short-legged beetle that they called a Click Beetle, Skipjack, Snapping Bug or Break-back. When one falls or is turned over on its back, it folds its legs, plays dead, and could easily be mistaken for a bit of wood. Then, slowly, it arches its hinged body like an air gun cocked by a boy, until, with a sharp click, it suddenly straightens and bounces several inches into the air. The click is made by a heavy spine, on the underside of the head end, which is withdrawn and snaps back into a socket just beyond the hinge. If the beetle lands right side up it scuttles away. If not, it tries again. Sometimes youngsters play a game to see which side will come up most often. A person picking up one of these insects is usually startled and lets go when it snaps. This may also serve as a protection from birds.

Click beetles are also called "elaters", a word best known to crossword puzzle fans. Several hundred species of them are known in the United States and about three thousand in the world. Most of our common ones are brown, gray or black and range from a quarter-inch to an inch in length. The largest and showiest of our native ones is the Eyed Elater which has two large velvety-black spots ringed with white -- like two glaring eyes. The true eyes are in the head which is sunk in a little notch at the front. The adult Eyed Elater reaches a length of two inches and comes from a larva that feeds on other insects in the decaying stumps of apple and other trees. In the tropics many click beetles are brilliant blue, green, yellow or red and a few shine at night. In some countries ladies wear them as ornaments and, at Coney Island, New York, they were once sold as novelties.

The larvae of click beetles are long, narrow, cylindrical, hard-shelled, shiny brown creatures commonly called wireworms. They are among the most destructive and widespread pests of farm crops, vegetables and flowers. Most wireworms live entirely in the soil where they destroy seeds, cut off small roots and stems, or bore holes in larger stems, roots and tubers. No crop is immune but potatoes, onions, corn, wheat, lettuce, beans, peas, sugar beets, tomatoes carrots and melons are particularly susceptible. Most kinds normally feed on the roots of native grasses and other plants but when they are deprived of their natural food they attack domesticated plants. Their damage is most severe during the first year or two after grassland has been put under cultivation. Until recent years, summer plowing and crop rotation were used to control them. Now, chemical insecticides are coming into increasing use.

The length of the life cycle, from the egg to the adult click beetle, is longer than that of most insects. For example, the adults of one common species become active and fly about in early spring. The tiny white eggs are laid in soil and the adults die soon afterward. In a few days or weeks the eggs hatch and the young wireworms feed until fall when they are about one-fourth of an inch long. At the end of three years most of them are full-grown and an inch long. During all this time they seldom move more than a few yards. Then, in midsummer, each transforms into a naked soft pupa in a hollowed out cell deep in the soil. After a few weeks the pupa changes again -- into an adult -- but remains in its cell until the following spring.

Did you ever play the game of tiddledy-winks ? Do you suppose it was invented by click beetles ?

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