Glorious Scarab Riffs

Yesterday evening I was sitting out on the porch, enjoying the cool breezes and reading a novel. I looked up from the book, contemplating a particularly felicitous passage, and a glint of gold caught my eye. Something shiny was catching a stray sun-ray, some random bit of organic debris on the concrete porch floor. I put the book down, got up, and squatted by the glinting object. It was a dead scarab beetle of some sort. Its back was brilliantly striped with green and gold. The insect corpse looked like a piece of enamel-work, as if it had come from FabergĂ©’s workshop.

This morning I placed the dead creature on a slab of limestone out in the courtyard. I photographed it from various angles. I stood there looking at the beetle and wondered what to do with it. It seemed a shame to toss such a brilliant and finely-wrought relic of a beetle’s life into the weeds. I finally decided that the best thing to do was to give it to a sharp-eyed six-year-old boy, the son of a friend. That kid collects such things.

I identified the beetle, using the Kaufman insect field guide and the very useful web-site BugGuide . I’m reasonably certain that my beetle is Chrysina gloriosa, the Glorious Scarab Beetle. I posted the photo below to Facebook, but I thought there might be more to say about the photos I took than would be appropriate for such an ephemeral and commercial venue. I use Facebook daily, since many of my friends and family members do the same, but I don’t trust the site. I think that Facebook encourages short attention spans, and I like to keep my current span long!


This evening I took a second look at my scarab photos. An aside: we tend to take for granted each new power technology grants us. Sometimes a sense of appreciative wonder is appropriate. The images produced by even cheap digital cameras these days are of such high resolution that cropping a small area and enlarging it can reveal marvelous hidden details. I was doing this with my scarab images, cropping, zooming, and wandering around a near-microscopic landscape. My attention was drawn to one of the creature’s front feet. What an intriguingly odd appendage! It looked like something from the Jurassic era, perhaps a flipper on a plesiosaur swimming in ancient seas… or perhaps a limb from one of the horrific creatures which populated H.P. Lovecraft’s fever-dreams:


The rudimentary ridges on that foot — could they be the ancestral forms of our own fingers? And look at the scarab’s eye in that shot. Doesn’t it look like it’s glancing right at you? This is an unsettling illusion I first noticed when photographing moths years ago. I eventually realized that what looks like a pupil in the insect’s compound eyes is actually a reflection of the camera’s lens.

In this next zoomed view I was surprised to see a wickedly-armed hind foot on the beetle, which is a herbivore quietly subsisting on Alligator Juniper fronds. The foot looks like it bears a raptor’s talon, or the gripping claws of a Tyrannosaurus. The purpose of these appendages is probably just for holding on tight to branches while feeding, or for gripping a mate tightly while engaged in copulation.


Since this particular scarab beetle was dead when I found it, it most likely had accomplished the humble tasks for which it had evolved. It left behind, though, an iridescent chitinous carcass which served to spark my imagination!


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