Planting season is almost upon us. Whether you are a backyard gardener, small-scale farmer, or a commercial seed potato farmer up the Pemberton Meadows, you’ve got seeds and starts on the brain. But what else might be seeping into your thoughts before sleep arrives?
Pests… insect pests. Those little lifeforms that may potentially ruin a portion of your crop, or all your hard work to produce a handful of the best potatoes you’ve sunk your teeth into.
One of the many pests of potato plants is commonly known as wireworm. Native and introduced wireworms from Europe feed on young potato tubers as larvae, creating small tunnels which can distort the appearance of the harvested tater. Larvae eventually develop into one-centimeter-long, bullet-shaped, adult beetles. These beetles belong to the insect family Elateridae, commonly known as “click beetles.”
Like other agricultural pests, the despised wireworm has BC native counterparts that are scintillating, strong, and can even be shiny. Some of the native click beetles have descriptors in their common names like “strange,” “resplendent,” “short-horned,” and even… “sad.”
But why the name “click beetle?” These four-to-15-millimetre-long beetles “jump” in the air while making a clicking sound in an attempt to avoid predators. But the kicker is they don’t use their legs. WHAT? The vertical jump is caused by a “jack-knifing” action between the two main sections of their body. The beetle’s muscles build up tension, causing a peg to remain stationary and store elastic energy. When the peg is released, it slides down a track, the hinge is unlocked, and the energy is released. TREE! The whole beetle pops into the air, which can be as high as 25 times its body length. While in the air, the beetle may rotate multiple times, uprighting itself from its initial “belly” side up position. This wild, rapid flexing motion accelerates “up to 380 times gravity.” Nature is nuts!
In British Columbia there are just about 210 species of clicks, at least 55 of which can be found in the Whistler-Pemberton area. That’s 55 unique, flip-flopping, elongated tiny tanks rummaging around our local forests, flowers, and even in your front yard.
So hopefully the next time you start cursing at a wireworm, aphid, or grasshopper in your garden, remember, they are here most likely due to us humans introducing them into an environment they didn’t evolve in. Meanwhile, their native click beetle cousins are a piece of the Sea to Sky biodiversity web, slowly being broken apart by the climate crisis. Over millions of years, insects evolved alongside various local plants used for food, shelter and raising young, all while being food sources for other insects, birds and wildlife, as well as decomposing the ecosystem’s waste. So to all our neighborhood click beetles and insects, say it loud and proud: thank you!
Naturespeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To learn more about Whistler’s natural world, go to whistlernaturalists.ca.