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Sweat the small stuff

Ground beetle (Anthia fornasinii) carrying a dead cicada. In South Africa these beetles are known under the charming name "oogpister" ("eye pisser") on the account of their ability to squirt defensive chemicals from their abdomen straight into the eyes of potential predators.

Ground beetle (Anthia fornasinii) carrying a dead cicada. In South Africa these beetles are known under the charming name “oogpister” (“eye pisser”) on the account of their ability to squirt defensive chemicals from their abdomen straight into the eyes of potential predators.

Recently I have been processing some of the 18,000+ photos I took during a recent trip to Mozambique, and yesterday one image caught my eye. It shows a large ground beetle carrying a dead cicada. I shot it rather casually one night in front of my tent in Gorongosa, and immediately forgot about it. But now, looking at it closely, I realized that I was guilty of the very same thing that I often preach against – I did not pay enough attention to the small things, and missed an interesting detail. Zooming in on the photo I noticed several ants milling around the beetle’s feet. More interestingly, one of the tarsi had a dead driver ant (Dorylus) permanently attached to it – the beetle had survived an attack by these notoriously vicious insects, which was quite impressive. But what were the other ants doing? I guess I will never know. I have made the same mistake in the past, where I would notice something interesting about the scene that I had shot, but only when it was much too late to go back and photograph it again.

A female Harlequin beetle (Acrocinus longimanus) from Guyana. The body of these insects is a vibrant ecosystem for several species of arachnids.

A female Harlequin beetle (Acrocinus longimanus) from Guyana. The body of this insect is a vibrant ecosystem for several species of arachnids.

But there is one thing that greatly helps in preventing this from happening – as Louis Pasteur succinctly put it, “In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind.” In the field of nature photography, the more you know about your subject, the more likely you are to notice something interesting or unusual, and refocus on that. My best example comes from Guyana, where a few years ago I found a gorgeous Harlequin beetle (Acrocinus longimanus). After taking a few photos of the animal I was about ready to let it go when suddenly some microscopically tiny  object ran across its body. I felt a spark in my brain reignite some old, long unused synapses, and recollections started flooding in – “That looked like a small scorpion. No, a pseudoscorpion. They are phoretic. One species is found only on Harlequin beetles. Cordylochernes scorpioides, that’s it!”

Large fig trees in South American rainforests serve as hosts to the spectacular Harlequin beetle, which completes its larval development in the wood of these plants. The body of this giant insect is in itself a vibrant ecosystem for several species of smaller animals. Hundreds of mites hide under the wings and in crevices of the beetle’s body, using the insect as a convenient way to move from place to place. The mites also serve as food for another passenger, the pseudoscorpion. But the mites are not the main reason why pseudoscorpions embark on the beetle’s back.

A phoretic pseudoscorpion (Cordylochernes scorpioides) uses the body of the Harlequin beetle to move from one fig tree to another, and to find mating partners and food.

A phoretic pseudoscorpion (Cordylochernes scorpioides) uses the body of the Harlequin beetle to move from one fig tree to another, and to find mating partners and food.

These arachnids spend their lives on the same fig trees that the beetles need to develop and where they seek mating partners, and thus the pseudoscorpions can be assured that by hitching a ride on a harlequin beetle they will end up on another tree of the same species. This also means that the beetle’s back is a great place to meet new partners who hopped on it to look for new fig trees to colonize, and a lot of sexual activity takes place among pseudoscorpions under the covers of the beetle’s wings. Some male pseudoscorpions never leave the beetle because they know that with each landing on a fig tree new females will embark, giving them more chances to pass on their genes. And because some time ago I had read a study that described all this, I did not miss the opportunity to photograph this fascinating symbiosis. Now, if only somebody wrote something about beetles and ants…

Unidentified phoretic mites on the body of a Harlequin beetle serve as food to pseudoscorpions.

Phoretic mites on the body of a Harlequin beetle serve as food to pseudoscorpions.

I missed this one – an African assassin bug from Guinea also has phoretic mites and pseudoscorpions, but I only noticed them while processing this photo. It is possible that their natural history parallels that of the Neotropical Harlequin beetle and its passengers.

I missed this one – an African assassin bug from Guinea also has phoretic mites and pseudoscorpions, but I only noticed them while processing this photo. It is possible that their natural history parallels that of the Neotropical Harlequin beetle and its passengers.

Mozambique Diary: Somebody has to clean this mess

The Green dung beetle (Garreta nitens)is a pretty, diurnal species.

The Green dung beetle (Garreta nitens) is a pretty, diurnal species.

A friend of mine once compared holding a dung beetle in your hand to kissing a dog on the snout – both feel kind of good, until you think of the last thing they have probably been rubbing against. At least with dogs there is some room for other options, but there is no such ambiguity with the beetles. Still, it is difficult not to be impressed with the incredible forms and colors of these insects, and I had to constantly remind myself to be careful while handling the gorgeous dung beetle specimens that Bruno de Medeiros, a Harvard coleopterist participating in our Cheringoma biodiversity survey, kept bringing for me to photograph. For you see, the best and most effective way to collect these beetles is to lure them with a tasty bait. And there is no better bait than dung of an omnivorous mammal, and none is more omnivorous than a human. Dung beetle specialists have long been searching for the Holy Grail of Scarabaeology – a synthetic bait that attracts a wide variety of species – but, alas, they have not yet found it. And so, Bruno, like an expectant mother, was forced to eat for two (or rather several hundred) in order to produce enough bait to fill the dozens of pitfall traps needed to sample dung beetles at each of our survey’s sites.

Bruno de Medeiros with one of the largest dung beetles found in Gorongosa, Pachylomerus femoralis.

Bruno de Medeiros with one of the largest dung beetles found in Gorongosa, Pachylomerus femoralis.

We still don’t know how many species of dung beetles came to Bruno’s carefully baited pitfalls – identifying tiny aphodiines and other cryptic forms will take some time – but in his estimation at least 100 species, perhaps more, are to be expected. This is really good news for the Gorongosa ecosystem. Although the park lost a large proportion of its mammal population during the civil war of 1975-1992 and, consequently, its dung beetles surely must have suffered from the sudden decline in availability of their food resources, all original elements of their fauna are probably still in place. This means that as the large mammals return, and populations of most herbivores already show quickly accelerating growth rates, dung beetles will be able to build up quickly and resume their thankless but invaluable services.

Female Heliocopris sp. taking off, apparently not satisfied with the quality of the dung she found.

Female Heliocopris sp. taking off, apparently not satisfied with the quality of the dung she found.

Dung beetles are critically important members of savanna communities that dominate Gorongosa, and without them and their waste removal labor the place would quickly sink under layers of dung produced by thousands of mammalian grazers and browsers. Their ability to return nutrients trapped in dung into the soil also supports the positive feedback loop between rapid vegetation growth and herbivory. The ecosystem services provided by dung beetles thus carry actual, calculable monetary value – I am not sure what that value is in Gorongosa, but in the United States the dung removal services by beetles is estimated to save the cattle industry $380 million per year. In Australia dung beetles imported from Africa and other places saved the cattle industry from a total collapse after it became apparent that local insects were not adapted to processing manure of non-native mammal species; New Zealand is also considering a similar move to save itself from an ocean of cattle and sheep dung that threatens to engulf the islands.

Male Heliocopris andersoni, one of the largest and most impressive dung beetles in Africa.

Male Heliocopris andersoni, one of the largest and most impressive dung beetles in Africa.

But dung beetles are not only useful and pretty, they are also supremely cool – a recent study demonstrated that they are the only insects known to navigate using the position of the Milky Way and other galaxies. Only humans (and possibly a few other animals, but it has never been conclusively proven) use the position of celestial bodies to find their way around.

And although I quickly learned that I should hold my breath and discreetly reach for a bottle of hand sanitizer every time Bruno brought me a new specimen, it was always a thrill to see a new animal. The high dung beetle richness we found on the Cheringoma Plateau shows that Gorongosa is well on its way to full recovery, and its cleanup crew is alive and well.

A time lapse movie spanning 10 hours of dung beetle activity, showing what happens to warthog dung in Gorongosa. (Click here for a high quality version of the movie.)

Plum dung beetles (Anachalcos convexus) do not display sexual dimorphism, and both males and females form dung balls; this species is also often seen feeding on dead insects.

Plum dung beetles (Anachalcos convexus) do not display sexual dimorphism, and both males and females form dung balls; this species is also often seen feeding on dead insects.

Mozambique Diary: Manticora redux

The head of a Manticora larva blocking the entrance to its burrow.

The head of a Manticora larva blocking the entrance to its burrow.

Some weeks ago I wrote about the Monster Tiger Beetle (Manticora) that I had found in the savanna of Gorongosa. These insects are powerful predators, hunting grasshoppers and other small invertebrates using their enormous mandibles. The larvae of Manticora are similarly carnivorous, but rather than actively pursuing their prey the way their parents do, they are sit-and-wait predators. At that time I had not been able to see or collect Manticora larvae, but tonight I finally managed to snag one.

Like other tiger beetles, the larvae of Manticora hunt from the safety of their narrow, nearly vertical burrows in the sand. Their soft body is safely tucked inside the tunnel, and the only thing that is visible on the surface is a large, heavily sclerotized head and pronotum, both of which form a shield that blocks the access to the burrow. The mandibles of a Manticora larva are pointing upwards so that any insect unlucky enough to step on the head is instantly grabbed by its leg and pulled underground. Imagine walking down the street and stepping on one of those round metal plates that cover sewer manholes, only the plate turns out to be the head of monster, and you are instantly sucked underground – this is what it must feel to a cricket or an antlion as it is being dragged by Manticora.

Only the head and pronotum of a larva of Manticora is heavily sclerotized, while the rest of the body is soft and safely tucked inside the burrow. Notice the anchor-like structure on the 5th abdominal segment.

Only the head and pronotum of a Manticora larva are heavily sclerotized, while the rest of the body is soft and safely tucked inside the burrow. Notice the anchor-like structure on the 5th abdominal segment.

I found a small aggregation of Manticora larvae on one of the sandy paths in the Chitengo camp and watched them for a little while. The aggregation consisted of 10 larvae of different ages, the smallest ones with the head diameter of about 5 mm, the largest 10-12 mm wide. A nearby lamp was attracting a lot of insects, and every 20-30 seconds an insect would invariably land near one of the Manticora burrows. The larvae clearly used their eyes to locate the prey and stretched out as far as they could out of the burrow to be ready when an insect gets really close. If the insect got within a couple of millimeters of the head, the mandibles snapped around the insect’s leg and the victim was instantly pulled underground. Interestingly, the larvae were clearly able to assess their chances of success: if the potential victim appeared to be too large to be pulled inside the burrow, rather than catching the insect’s leg the larva would flick its head and toss the insect away.

This cricket is done for – a Manticora larva grabbed its front leg and is dragging it down the burrow.

This cricket is done for – a Manticora larva grabbed its front leg and is dragging it down the burrow.

It took me a while to figure out how to extract one of the larvae out of its burrow. At first I tried digging, but the tunnels turned out to be very long, and the hard, caked soil made digging very difficult. Eventually, I used the insect’s own voracity to catch it – I gently touched the head with the forceps, and when the mandibles snapped around it I grabbed the head and pulled the larva out. It was not easy as the 5th abdominal tergite of the larva is modified into a large, spiny structure that effectively anchors the animal in its burrow. The larva’s morphology reminded me of marine polychaete worms that use a similar tactic for catching prey from the confines of their burrows.

A Manticora larva, just like its parents, is a voracious killing machine.

A Manticora larva, just like its parents, is a voracious killing machine.

Mozambique Diary: Manticora

A male Monster Tiger Beetle (Manticora latipennis) killing one of his favorite prey items, a grasshopper (Humbe tenuicornis) [Canon 7D, Canon 100mm macro, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

A male Monster Tiger Beetle (Manticora latipennis) killing one of his favorite prey items, a grasshopper (Humbe tenuicornis) [Canon 7D, Canon 100mm macro, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

Things have been busy here in Chitengo, and I am struggling to find time to update the blog amidst the preparations to our upcoming biodiversity survey of the Cheringoma Plateau. But I simply cannot resist mentioning one of the most remarkable creatures that I have had the pleasure to meet in Gorongosa. Every biologist has a list of organisms that he or she is particularly keen on seeing at least once in the wild. My list is long, but a few days ago I managed to check off it Manticora, or the Monster Tiger Beetle.

With a name like this one would expect a rather extraordinary beetle, and one would not be disappointed. Named after a mythical beast with the body of a lion, head of a man, and the tail of a scorpion, the real-life Manticora may not be as monstrous, but it is nonetheless a stunning animal. It is the world’s largest tiger beetle (Cicindelinae), with a robust, heavily sclerotized body that easily reaches 65 mm in length. Its head, especially that of the male, is equipped with a pair of mandibles that would not look out of place on a stag beetle but, unlike the mostly ritualistic function of large mandibles in stag beetles, those of Maticora are very much functional.

The mandibles of a male Manticora latipennis are truly impressive. In addition to catching and killing prey, males use them hold and guard a female during copulation. [Canon 6D, Canon 16-35mm + an extender, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

The mandibles of a male Manticora latipennis are truly impressive. In addition to catching and killing prey, males use them hold and guard a female during copulation. [Canon 6D, Canon 16-35mm + an extender, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

Despite its size Manticora behaves in a way quite similar to smaller tiger beetle species. Its movements are agile, and it can run like hell and change direction in a split of a second; they cannot fly, however. These beetles hunt anything that moves, although prefer orthopterans, but unlike other tiger beetles it appears that the sense of smell rather than vision is their main tool for locating their victims. Once prey is located the beetle clasps it with its enormous mandibles and literally chops it to pieces. I watched it find and kill a large wolf spider – at first I thought that the spider would put up a fight, but about two seconds later what was left of the spider was a nicely masticated ball of tissue and a small pile of legs. After the main body was consumed the beetle picked the legs, one by one, off the ground and ate them, too. Interestingly, the beetle, which was a male and thus his mandibles ware particularly large, used its maxillae rather than the mandibles to pick up the leftover bits of prey, a behavior I have not seen before in a beetle.

A spider found by Manticora did not stand a chance – in a couple of seconds all that was left of the animal was a pile of body parts. [Canon 6D, Canon 16-35mm + an extender, Canon MT-24EX twin light]

A spider found by Manticora did not stand a chance – in a couple of seconds all that was left of the animal was a pile of body parts. [Canon 6D, Canon 16-35mm + an extender, Canon MT-24EX twin light]

Manticoras have a bimodal pattern of activity, hunting mostly early in the morning, and then again around sunset and, contrary to a frequently repeated misconception, they are not nocturnal. This is likely because of the competition from other, mostly nocturnal ground beetles (Anthia and Termophilum), which are also common here.

A male Manticora with prey [Canon 7D, Canon 100mm macro, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

A male Manticora with prey [Canon 7D, Canon 100mm macro, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

The discovery of Manticora in Gorongosa has also solved a small mystery for me. About a week ago I witnessed a strange sight – a very large antlion of the genus Palpares, an insect the size of a small bird, was slowly disappearing, head first, into a perfectly round hole in the ground. That just did not compute, and I had to see what was causing this behavior. I tried to pull the antlion out and something pulled back. But the mystery animal’s strength was no match for my mighty human strength, and I freed the antlion, but not before catching a glimpse of a large, flat head about the size and shape of a penny, disappearing deep into the perfectly vertical tunnel in the ground. Tiger beetles have larvae that behave in exactly this way, and now I am convinced that I stole the prey from a Manticora larva. Next time I see a similar tunnel I will try to find the larva and photograph it.

I have read in several places that the male Mantcora's enormous mandibles are not good at catching prey – not true, they are excellent killing devices! [Canon 6D, Canon 16-35mm + an extender, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

I have read in several places that the male Mantcora’s enormous mandibles are not good at catching prey – not true, they are excellent killing devices! [Canon 6D, Canon 16-35mm + an extender, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

Mozambique Diary: Playing a detective

Mysterious beetle larvae in a tree cavity in Gorongosa. [Canon 6D, Canon 100mm macro, Canon MT 24EX twin light]

Mysterious larvae in a tree cavity in Gorongosa. [Canon 6D, Canon 100mm macro, Canon MT 24EX twin light]

For an entomologist few pleasures in life are greater than arriving in a new geographic area and being stumped by unfamiliar and mysterious insects, often ones that he/she had never suspected existed. I had a moment like this last night, when I ran across a strange, metallic blue insect, about 25 mm long, walking on the sand in Chitengo. My first thought was that it must be a blattodean, some of which are wingless and have a dark, metallic sheen. But when I picked it up I realized that it was a beetle larva. I knew it because the insect lacked well-developed tarsi or any traces of wings or wing pads, and its antennae consisted of only two articles (although one was exceptionally long). But what family? Ground beetles (Carabidae) often have strange, active larvae that hunt insects in sandy areas, and this was my guess.

Then I happened to look up at the trunk of a nearby tree and saw several dozens of these larvae huddled in a small cavity about 2 m above the ground; the one I found must have fallen off the tree and was trying to find its way back home. I concluded that it couldn’t be a carabid as their larvae are ground-dwelling predators and thus unlikely to (a) live high in the trees and (b) form large aggregations.

A cluster of pupae in a tree cavity. [Canon 6D, Canon 100mm macro, illuminated with a headlamp]

A cluster of pupae in a tree cavity. [Canon 6D, Canon 100mm macro, illuminated with a headlamp]

A few meters away another tree had a second colony of these insects, but this one was a little older. Although it still had a few larvae moving around, most had already metamorphosed into pupae, which were hanging in grape-like clusters, eerily reminiscent of a scene from the movie “Alien”. There were about 50 of them hanging together, but the tree cavity was very deep and narrow, and I couldn’t get a good photo of the group. I had never seen beetle pupae hanging in a similar formation. The mystery deepened.

I shone a light into the cavity and squeezed my hand in to scoop one of the pupae. At that moment I noticed two adult beetles, which seemed to be guarding the cluster. They were clearly a male and a female since one individual was slightly larger and had distinctly thickened front legs with a pair of large spines; I assumed that it was the male. Both beetles ran away when I put my hand in, but quickly returned and assumed the same position near the clutch of pupae.

And they were darkling beetles, or Tenebrionidae! One of the first things you learn in an entomology class is that tenebrionids have elongate, vermiform larvae that burrow in the ground, and for this reason it never crossed my mind that the blue, free-running larvae in the tree might belong to this family. A cursory search of coleopterological literature revealed that my beetles may be members of a large, nearly cosmopolitan genus Strongylium, of which some species are arboreal. If any any entomologist reading this has another idea, I would love to know it – being stumped by an unknown insect is a pleasure, but never learning its identity is torture.

Update: The identity of this beetle has been revealed to be Pycnocerus sp. (Tenebrionidae: Lagriinae). Thanks to Kip Will and Rolf Albu for this information.

Three developmental stages of a mystery beetle, found together in the same tree "colony", tentatively identified as Strongylium sp. (Tenebrionidae). [Canon 6D, Canon 100mm macro, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

Three developmental stages of Pycnocerus (Tenebrionidae), found together in the same tree “colony”. [Canon 6D, Canon 100mm macro, 3 x Canon 580EXII]

Mozambique Diary: Back in Gorongosa

One of the first katydids I spotted was Horatosphaga serrifera, and elusive species, knwon only from a small handful of specimens. This group is highly sexually dimorphic and males look nothing like this chunky, flightless female. [Canon 14mm, Canon MT 24EX twin light]

One of the first katydids I spotted was a female of Horatosphaga serrifera, an elusive species, known only from a small handful of specimens. This group of katydids is highly sexually dimorphic and males look nothing like this chunky, flightless female. [Canon 14mm, Canon MT 24EX twin light]

Yesterday I arrived in the spectacular Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Last time when I was here the place was dry and dusty, but now, at the end of the rainy season the luxuriant vegetation is vibrantly green and after the misery of Boston’s winter the air feels throat-soothingly humid. During the day Gorongosa’s woodlands vibrate with calls of cicadas and grasshoppers, while nights are thick with crickets and frogs, randomly punctuated with blood-curling screams of a bushbaby. On my first stroll after dark I counted eleven species of praying mantids, and immediately ran into three species of katydids that I had not seen during my previous visit. Sandy paths around the main camp of the park are Roman arenas full of carnage indiscriminately dispensed by solifugids and giant Anthia beetles. Every lightbulb along the camp’s roads is dimmed with clouds of moths, dung beetles, and ants, and under each one sits a fat toad, gorging on the seasonal manna. It is heaven.

The purpose of my visit to Gorongosa is to lead a month-long survey of plants and animals of the Cheringoma Plateau, the poorly explored eastern rim of the Great African Rift Valley, of which Gorongosa is the southernmost tip. In a few weeks a large group of biologists will descend on the park, and trap, record, photograph, sample, measure, weigh, track, trace, and triangulate every plant, mammal, bird, reptile, frog, dung beetle, ant, katydid, and praying mantis living here. We will leave no stone unturned, no twig unchecked for ants, and no pile of dung uninspected for beetles. I will not be surprised if, once all the collected material is processed and identified, we might be able to double the number of species recorded from Gorongosa, which currently stands at 1,790 confirmed animals and plants. But before this happens there is still a lot of work to do and tomorrow Marc Stalmans, Gorongosa’s chief scientist and I are leaving on a reconnaissance trip to select the survey’s camp sites.

As a scientist I am absolutely giddy with excitement about what we will find and document, and as a nature photographer I am itching to point my lens at everybody and everything that crosses our path on the Cheringoma Plateau. In preparation for this unique opportunity I had packed my brand spanking new Canon 400mm; a cool new gizmo called NeroTrigger to remotely capture elusive nocturnal animals; a battery of flashes and macro lenses; and a waterproof housing for my camera to get some shots of the underwater life. All in all, really great gear. It is thus rather unfortunate that all of it was lost on my way to Mozambique. South African Airlines gladly took my luggage and a big wad of cash for the extra piece, but somehow forgot about the delivery part of the deal. There is a big Pelican case with $12,000 worth of gear floating somewhere in the nether regions of the aviation industry, and I can only hope that at some point it will resurface and I am reunited with my beloved gear. In the meantime I will make do with what I have, perhaps the limitations of my current gear will spur me to be more creative. Watch this space.

Below my feet, carnage. A big Anthia ground beetle killed another individual and is now gorging on it favorite soft part – the ripped off genitalia. [Canon 180mm, Canon MT 24EX twin light]

Below my feet, carnage. A big Anthia ground beetle killed another individual and is now gorging on it favorite soft part – the ripped off genitalia. [Canon 180mm, Canon MT 24EX twin light]

African Tuesday: Beware of the snail

A ground beetle (Carabidae: Antiinae) attacking a land snail in Atewa, Ghana [Canon 1DMkII, Canon 100mm macro, Canon MT 24EX twin light]

A ground beetle (Carabidae: Antiinae) attacking a land snail in Atewa, Ghana [Canon 1DMkII, Canon 100mm macro, Canon MT 24EX twin light]

I had always been under the impression that snails defended themselves mostly with their calciferous shells, and that otherwise they were pretty vulnerable creatures. That changed when I ran across an interesting encounter between a pulmonate snail and a predatory ground beetle (Carabidae: Anthiinae) in the rainforest of Atewa plateau in southeastern Ghana. I did not see the very beginning of the encounter, but I imagine that the beetle attacked the snail, naively expecting no resistance other than a feeble attempt by the snail to pull itself into the shell. But he was in for a nasty surprise. For the next 10 minutes the snail systematically engulfed the beetle in a copious amount of foamy mucus that effectively prevented the beetle from getting anywhere near the vital organs of the snail. In the end the snail simply slipped down the branch in a protective cocoon of foamy mucus, while the unfortunate beetle was barely able to walk away, frantically trying to clean the mucus off its head.

A few minutes later the snail slides away protected with a cocoon of sticky mucus foam

A few minutes later the snail slides away protected with a cocoon of sticky mucus foam

Turns out that these kinds of encounters are very common, and some carabid beetle have evolved strategies for paralyzing their snail prey before the mollusk is able to overwhelm the predator with mucus. Snails constantly produce relatively small amounts of mucus, which helps them slide on the substrate and prevents water loss. But when attacked, many terrestrial snails respond by blowing compressed air from the pulmonary cavity into a slit between the body wall and a fold of the respiratory orifice, while exuding extra amount of mucus. Of course every defense elicits anti-defense, and some carabid beetles have evolved the ability to paralyze the snail with a single bite to the head or posterior part of the mantle, thus stopping the production of the protective mucus foam.

A defeated ground beetle will need to spend many hours cleaning itself.

The defeated ground beetle will need to spend many hours cleaning itself.