Golden Tortoise Beetle - A Jewel of a Bug

I looked after kids in my home for several years as part of a strategy to keep my one child from growing up with an 'only child' perception of the world. That only child grew up into the Lad and if you can read between the lines here, you may have gathered that this strategy has paid off. So far.

It paid off in many other ways as well. When you are in the company of small children you are forced to view the world from their point of view and I can tell you, the world is an amazing place down there where they are.

We had the honour of watching a cecropia caterpillar build its cocoon and morph into one of the most dramatic and enormous moths I have ever seen in my life. I wrote about that here.

You can see the photographer's reflection in the beetle's gilded shell
[photo: Lynette Schimming]

One day while exiting the back yard shed, I looked down and saw what I thought was a gold bead lying on the discarded leaf of a maple tree. I thought to myself that one of the little girls must have lost it and bent down to pick it up to bring into the house. That's when I noticed it wasn't a bead, it was the most golden, metallic ladybug I'd ever seen.

Of course, it wasn't a ladybug, it was a Golden Tortoise beetle I've since discovered. Found all over North America, it is jewel like in its brilliance. 

I picked up the leaf to show the kids and thought the beetle got duller and duller as I walked with it. I wasn't imagining that either.

A golden tortoise beetle can change to drab lady-bug orange in as little as twelve seconds.

Image shows the Golden Tortoise beetle's two colour extremes
[photo: Joe Stavish/Carnegie Museum of Natural History]

Also known as the Metriona bicolor or Charidotella sexpunctata, you have probably seen one and didn't know it. It loves Morning Glory leaves so chances are if you have a morning glory nearby, you will see one of these beetles.

The beetle accomplishes this colour change by opening and closing valves that control moisture levels in its shell. Also its outer shell is completely transparent. So it's like this golden bead with legs, dressed in a clear raincoat.

Even more appealing to children, the larvae of this beetle is black with a forked tail and disguises itself as a tiny pile of crap by attaching droppings to its back. This beetle is win/win for how much awesomeness it packs for a kid.

You will find an in depth article at Coastal Bend Naturalist here.



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