The colossal bug lying in the middle of Aspen Drive was bigger than anything I could possibly suck up with my Royal canister vacuum attachment. Throughout the summer I have been sucking up dramatic hatches of flies, spiders and now, in the fall, earwigs hiding inside my house.
This thing, this horrible, horrible 3-inch beetle, was far too big and far too intimidating to even consider approaching. It was Halloween scary, and I am no entomophobic. I can squish bugs with the best of them. However, if I were to squash this massively thick beetle enclosed in a hard, dark brown, shiny wing case, I would need to use a hose to wash its slimy remains off the road.
I realized the only thing to do was to poke it with a stick. With Rollo, my trusty shih tzu, standing a leash-length away wondering what antics his mother was up to now, I picked up a long, thin willow limb, took a deep breath and gave the monster beetle a nudge. It didn’t move. I didn’t scream.
I leaned in a little closer and gave it another shove. “Do beetles play possum?” I wondered. Taking another deep breath, I flipped the creepy beetle over. Definitely dead. The question now was what to do. I couldn’t just leave it there. But I didn’t want to carry it around with me for the next 45 minutes on my walk with Rollo, either.
I scooped up the bug using a regulation brown poop bag that I had stashed in my pocket. I made a loose knot in the top and placed it on top of an electrical box. A friend saw me as she walked out her front door.
“Whadda ya doin?” she asked.
“I’ve got this really horrible bug in the bag. Do you want to see it?”
“No!” she answered.
I explained my predicament and told her that I was leaving the poop bag with the giant horrible bug inside on top of the electrical box and that I would pick it up on the way home for later identification. I figured I’d go to Weed and Pest or the Agricultural Extension office.
Ultimately, once Rollo and I did get back home with the bug I just slid the giant beetle onto a piece of cardboard in my back driveway and examined it. A passerby noticed the sci-fi curiosity and me.
“Darn,” he said. “Yesterday I found one of those sitting on my deck under the porch light. When I went to pick him up he squeaked. I almost had a heart attack. Then he disappeared.”
As these things go in my neighborhood, within minutes the young man’s roommate showed up. “Whoa, that dude is high on the ick factor,” he said.
Both young men pulled out their phones. In less than 90 seconds, the big-jawed ugly beetle was identified as California prionus, sometimes called the giant root borer, which is one of the largest beetles around. Fortunately, they do not harm or bite humans, though the psychological scar that might occur after an encounter with a bug such as this is entirely another matter.
The adult root borer emerges from midsummer to early autumn. It lives only five to seven days, just long enough to mate and lay eggs a few centimeters below the ground. Aspen Drive is full of cottonwood trees, willows, pines, Douglas fir and serviceberry bushes. I’m surprised this was my first encounter with the giant not-very-endearing beetle. As adults, California prionuses are favorite snacks of coyotes, bats and bears. We have had a bear in the neighborhood recently. Should I hear him crunching I’ll know he hasn’t gotten into a big bag of Cheetos but instead a passel of tasty beetles.
Just recently I read a report researching whether consumers over the age of 60 are ready to accept alternative, more sustainable protein sources in the European Union. Protein-energy malnutrition is a growing concern due to the rapidly growing population of seniors with failing health caused by insufficient protein intake.
The study explored older adults’ acceptance of protein alternatives like plant-based proteins, in-vitro meat and insects. Once inside my house I looked at the bug, looked at the freezer, thought about the study and was never was so happy to have shelves full of elk and antelope as opposed to freezer bags filled with fillets of California prionus.
I brought my bug pal out to my front deck, where I planned to incorporate the monster into a Halloween display. I placed the creature on the table, turning my back to it as I pondered whether I should place it on a pumpkin or dangle it by a string near the twigs and plastic bats. Out of nowhere a raven appeared, snatched the beetle and disappeared. Nevermore. Nevermore.