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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 22, 2003 - Issue 83


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The Coyote and the Beetle

by Frank Hamilton Cushing, Zuni Folk Tales, 1901


In remote times, after our ancients were settled at Middle Ant Hill, a little thing occurred which will explain a great deal.

A Tip BeetleMy children, you have doubtless. seen Tip-beetles.

They run around on smooth, hard patches of ground in spring time and early summer, kicking their heels into the air and thrusting their heads into any crack or hole they find.

Well, in ancient times, on the pathway leading around to Fat Mountain, there was one of these Beetles running about in all directions in the sunshine, when a Coyote came trotting along. He pricked up his ears, lowered his nose, arched his neck, and stuck out his paw toward the Beetle.

"Ha!" said he, "I shall bite you!"

A Tip BeetleThe Beetle immediately stuck his head down close to the ground, and, lifting one of his antenna deprecatingly, exclaimed: "Hold on! Hold on, friend! Wait a bit, for the love of mercy! I hear something very strange down below here!"

"Humph!" replied the Coyote. "What do you hear?"

"Hush! hush!" cried the Beetle, with his head still to the ground. "Listen!"

So the Coyote drew back and listened most attentively. By-and-by the Beetle lifted himself with a long sigh of relief.
"Okwe!" exclaimed the Coyote. "What was going on?"

A Tip Beetle"The Good Soul save us!" exclaimed the Beetle, with a shake of his head. "I heard them saying down there that tomorrow they would chase away and thoroughly chastise everybody who defiled the public trails of this country, and they are making ready as fast as they can!"

"Souls of my ancestors!" cried the Coyote. "I have been loitering along this trail this very morning, and have defiled it repeatedly. I'll cut!" And away he ran as fast as he could go.

The Beetle, in pure exuberance of spirits, turned somersaults and stuck his head in the sand until it was quite turned.

A Tip BeetleThus did the Beetle in the days of the ancients save himself from being bitten. Consequently the Tip-beetle has that strange habit of kicking his heels into the air and sticking his head in the sand.

Thus shortens my story.


Print, Color and Label Your Own Beetle Picture

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Pinacate Beetles
"Stinkbugs" or "Clown Beetles."

Pinacate BeetleBeetles in the genus Eleodes are known as "darkling" or "pinacate beetles," and colloquially as "stinkbugs" or "clown beetles." Eleodes, derived from the Greek term for "olivelike" describes the general body shape and jet black coloration. Darkling is a common name applied to several genera and over 1400 species within the family Tenebrionidae. Pinacate comes from the Aztec pinacatl, for "black beetle." Stinkbug refers to the malodorous secretion emitted from the insect’s rear end. Clown beetle alludes to the habit of these beetles to do a "headstand" when threatened.

When walking, pinacate beetles, with lowered front ends and raised rears, resemble little low-riders. Bodies are ovate to oblong, ranging in size between 0.4 and 1.4 inches long, and they are jet black or occasionally dark brown. They may be smooth or rough, and elongate or robust. The head is prominent and slightly narrowed behind the eyes. A few varieties have hair-like structures and what looks like a tail, but is actually elongated wings. Like all insects, they have six legs. Thickened, leathery wing-covers protect the delicate flight wings, which they do not use.

Pinacate BeetleRange
Pinacate beetles are abundant both in species and individuals west of the Mississippi. Roughly 120 species are found in the western United States. They occur across ecosystems from open dunes to shrubs to mountains. They even live on the islands off the coast of California. The greatest diversity of the largest and smelliest occur in the deserts. The greatest overall diversity occurs in scrub and mountain regions. The beetles are often found under logs or in other detritus.

Most animals avoid contact with Eleodes due to the insect’s ability to produce a stinky secretion. Grasshopper mice, however, get around this problem by grabbing the beetle, jamming its behind into the sand, and eating it head first. Other predators include burrowing owls, loggerhead shrikes and another well-known stinker, skunks.

Pinacate BeetleHabits and Habitat
One of the most commonly encountered desert insects, pinacate beetles can be active year round. From spring to autumn they are crepuscular and nocturnal (active at twilight, night and early sunrise), but come fall, they revert to a more diurnal lifestyle. Pinacate beetles are one of the great walkers of the desert beetle world and are often encountered, seemingly wandering at random. Studies have shown that they are probably in search of food, which they find by odor. Primarily, they consume detritus of grasses and forbs. In the laboratory, they eat apples, lettuce and dog food.

They are well known for their comical, yet effective, defense tactics. When alarmed they stand on their heads by bending their front legs down and extending their rear legs. Depending upon the species, they exude an oily, musty secretion, which collects at the tip of the abdomen or spreads over posterior parts of the body, or they eject the reddish brown to brown secretion as a spray. Larger desert species, like E. armata and E. longicollis, can spray 10 to 20 inches. Most species can spray multiple times, if necessary. The spray is not painful unless you get it in your eyes or mouth, where it is painful, burning and temporarily blinding. It does not wash off.

The larvae of certain Eleodes species are also known as false wireworms, and they are a pest of some commercial crops in the Midwest. Larvae are slender, shiny, darkish green to brown, and hard bodied. They feed on the seeds and seedlings of wheat, sorghum, all oilseeds, grain legumes and cereals, particularly in light, draining soils with a high organic content. Fine seedling crops like canola and linola are particularly susceptible.

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