We stepped outside the front door to a “major” find. Bumbling across our front walkway, the Strategus aloeus, or ox beetle, was working its way back to the leaf litter of our flower beds. Snapping him up, I delighted in taking a few photos as this was the first “major” one I had ever been lucky enough to see.
Ox beetles are a species of scarab beetle and come in major and minor forms. Sometimes referred to as a rhinoceros or rhino beetle, major males have an impressive trio of large horns that might remind you of a Triceratops dinosaur. Males in the “minor” form also have horns but on a reduced scale. Horns are used to drive off competing males during mating rituals. Females have no horns, but there are bumps known as tubercles on their otherwise smooth, hard bodies.
Underneath that hard outer covering or elytra are lacy, membranous wings. That’s right, these enormous insects can fly. If you are lucky, you’ll find them outside around artificial lights at night on rare occasions. These surprisingly large, scavenger beetles also have hairy, spiny legs just meant for digging.
Found throughout Florida, they range across our southern states. A single egg is laid in a deep burrow the male and female work together to dig out, using those stiff, thorn-like legs. Leaf litter is packed into the burrow so the large, white, worm-like larvae will have enough food to begin life. If you have ever dug a hole or replanted flowerbeds and found these sometimes finger size larvae, you may have noticed the translucent appearance. Herbivores, all stages of this remarkable insect feed exclusively on plant material.
Adults are nocturnal and rest during daylight hours in burrows they dig deep into damp sandy soil. Due to the heavy rains we have been experiencing, you may find them above ground during daylight hours if they get flooded and forced to the surface.
Rarely seen, they are out there, busy working with other decomposers. Part of the scarab beetle family, these very specialized insects serve the purpose of cleaning up and most have extremely specific material they focus on, whether it is poop, carrion (dead animals) or plant matter.
As large and formidable as they appear, they are harmless and extremely beneficial to the environment. Keep in mind if handled, they may “complain” by hissing or clambering to get away and their clawed feet can cut delicate skin.