Small in a BIG Way

DSC_0055_292We are on to something big, small but big. This seems contradictory, it is not. We are on to something big, and it is small. There are ways to know if you are on to something big. Two consistently effective are observation, and knowing the truth.

The true facts- It has six legs. It is an invertebrate with an exoskeleton. These make it an insect. These are ordinary, nothing big yet. It is iridescent. The shell of the adult changes color in different light.  Coppery metallic green stands out. Its Latin name Chrysochus auratus means “made of gold”.  The same writer called it one of the most “gorgeous” of all insects. Ditto that. Told you it’s big. Yet the human eye needs a careful look to see a dogbane beetle. Only 1 cm or ½ inch in length, they are easily overlooked even though they are brilliantly colored.DSC_0082_296

The dogbane beetle is something big-in a small package. They are dependent upon the dogbane plant for life. They eat dogbane, they lay their eggs on dogbane and they mate on dogbane. Eggs are laid in dogbane feces on the underside of a leaf.  Adult beetles eat the leaves. The larva eats the roots.

Question: are you able to eat poison every day and survive? No jest or disrespect intended. We can’t. The dogbane beetle can. Dogbane plants, contain the poison cardenolide. Cardenolides, also known as cardiac glycosides, can have serious effects on the human heart if ingested at the same rate the dogbane beetle does. Actually, for the beetle it is good that it is toxic. During the growing season birds, other insects and mammals feast on insects with great enthusiasm. They usually leave the dogbane beetle alone.

This is big, in a small package. Dogbane sap is also sticky. Eventually the sap sticks to the beetles jaws. Another big, its jaws/mandibles fit into one another. The left side slides into a groove on the right side. When the sap sticks, the beetle just backs up and the sap is unstuck.DSC_0102_299

Once the larva hatch, they crawl “down-stem” and burrow into the soil immediately around the plant they hatched on. Once underground, they dine on their home plant’s roots. It is no coincidence that once underground they are protected from the coming bitter cold of winter. As adults, they emerge early the next summer to begin the life cycle anew.

You say, “you are overdoing this “big” thing. Wait, we cannot eat poison, we are not iridescent, we quickly wash sticky things off, we also quickly tire of the same place. We cannot imagine spending a life time in the very place of our birth. Then, since an adult dogbane beetle’s lifespan is 42-56 days, perhaps we can.

The biggest “big” in relation to the dogbane beetle is invisible. Simple logic dictates this beetle did not organize itself over time. Either it was able ingest poison from the beginning, or it would die. No more beetle. Iridescence is a fringe benefit. Such beauty seems clearly extravagant for a simple beetle.DSC_0085_297

Moses, who led Israel across the desert, and who knew the natural world well, wrote “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11) Consider the dogbane beetle. It is a glorious insect with amazing traits. Made by a majestic, awesome, all powerful God. He alone does wonders, even to small ones like the dogbane beetle. That is big!

Author: davidwellis

What does a grandfather, husband, former public school teacher and Education Specialist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service with many life experiences in nature do with them? A naturalist with a camera-makes outside a daily destination. My confidence is that God will guide my words, and photos. We live in a magnificent world, come and look at it with me through eyes, lens and words. To God be the glory. Current Profile Photo- Prickly Ash, the name summarizes this brushy undergrowth well. It fascinates me with its thorny branches. Seeing a vine wrapped around the trunk called for a photo.