A couple of days ago I was weeding the beets that I’m going to try to overwinter when a little black scurry dashed between the bits of pulled grass and plantain. Too small and skinny for a vole, too big for, oh, any normal insect, and fast. I pulled aside the clot of dried leaves it had disappeared under and found only a smooth round hole in the dirt, a little larger around than a pencil.
Hmmm. Something intending on making its winter home underground, side by side with my jolly round beets. I was not enthused, but digging away at the narrow hole only collapsed it, covering my suspected perp’s traces.
I had no doubt I’d see him/her/it again, skulking around my precious red orbs of deliciousness, but was surprised to catch sight of another scurry so soon, this morning, and so far from the last. This one had unwisely tried making his way across the gravel parking area and found himself confronted with the daunting, impassable concrete wall lip of the back porch.
He was clearly perplexed, and I took the opportunity to take a closer look. Shiny black. Head and thorax like a ginormous ant, but a long and apparently articulating abdomen. Like a giant earwig without the pincers on its butt. A giant, pruned, ninja earwig.
At some point I got too close, and our perplexed perp caught sight of me. But instead of trying to bolt, it squatted down and curved that bit of articulated abdomen up at me like a scorpion. I kind of backed off, half expecting it to squirt me with some biologically evolved nastiness. It half-lowered, then swung its butt back up in the air again like it was asking me if I felt lucky, and jinked around a bit like a bantam boxer. A bantam, ninja, earwig boxer.
Well, I was fascinated. And did what our species does whenever something fascinates us: we try to put it in a jar or something so we can learn a bit more about it before we destroy it. (N.B: sometimes our species skips the step between “putting in a jar” and “destroying.” To be fair, we frequently skip the first step, too.)
Naturally, the little sucker didn’t want to go into the jar, but I managed to coax it in by giving it no choice, then brought it around to see if anyone had any ideas what this nefarious little guy was. Came up blank until I thought of using that nifty Google reverse image search feature some of my friends back at the Big G came up with years ago (thanks, Radhika!). These days it’s called “Lens” and you basically take a picture of something and hit the “What the heck is this?” button. I use it a frightening amount of the time when I’m tromping around the woods, trying to identify unfamiliar plants.
Well, it wasn’t even a good picture, but within five seconds, my phone told me I was the possessor of a Devil’s coach horse beetle from the family of Rove beetles. And it turns out that these little (giant, ninja, etc., etc.) suckers eat slugs and woodlice and moths. Not veggies. They actually tend to protect veggies against insect predation to the extent that experiments (unsuccessful, alas) have been undertaken using them for pest control.
Well – that changed everything. My little friend in a jar wasn’t going to get smooshed after all. I slipped my muck boots on, tromped to the garden and launched him over the deer fence in the general direction of my beets. Maybe he’ll find a friend there.