Invasion of the beetles

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal

Josh Houseweart, a cart pusher at Wal-Mart, has seen so many black beetles in the store's parking lot this week he knows where to find the carcasses.

"You can't walk around here without stepping on one," he said.

He points to about 10 beetles corpses squished together at the front of one of the parking spaces.

"The customers have been saying they've been seeing a lot of them around town," the 19-year-old said. "They keep asking what they are. I have no clue."

He has learned that the predacious ground beetle, as it's called, crunches when it's stepped on, but doesn't smell, so it's not a stink bug; that it's attracted to light; that you can feel it when it crawls on your neck or your leg; and it might just fly into the car with you.

"I was over at the Carson Nugget last night," he said. "I left about 2:30. They were swarming around the light. They were landing on the hood and top of my car. I wasn't going to open the door until I kicked them out of the way."

None made it in. But Houseweart may be fighting an uphill battle, as the predacious ground beetle, commonly known as the caterpillar hunter, is expected to be around for the next couple of weeks, according to state entomologist Jeff Knight.

"They'll probably be around one to two weeks, I'm guessing, in real high numbers," he said. "Maybe a little longer, maybe shorter. We've had this phenomenon with this kind of number happen before, but primarily down in Las Vegas."

The caterpillar hunter is a six-legged black beetle, three-quarters of an inch to an inch in length. The beetle feeds on caterpillars, grubs, cutworms and moths.

"These are the adults," Knight said. "Probably, and I say probably because no one knows for sure, but there are probably so many of these things because it was a nice winter and there's a lot of food for them."

Residents in Reno, Virginia City, Carson City, Minden, Gardnerville, Topaz, Dayton, Elko and Ely have reported seeing the beetle, and it has been seen inside of some buildings, including restaurants and loading docks.

When Jacks Valley resident Doreen Hoffman went out for lunch Thursday, she saw hundreds of the beetles in a fast-food parking lot.

"They're awful. I was wearing sandals and I was thinking to myself, 'God, what if one got on my foot?' I hope I don't see anymore. They give me the creeps."

The beetles are thought to number anywhere in the millions to tens of millions in Northern Nevada. No reports have come in from Las Vegas.

"The number, when you talk about it, gets staggering and doesn't really mean much," Knight said. "It could be off by three or four times."

A drawn shade will keep the beetle, which is attracted to light, particularly ultraviolet light, out of buildings and homes.

"The other way to (get rid of them) is with a good old vacuum cleaner," Knight said. "Sprays aren't very effective. You're going to be spraying and spraying and we actually consider them a beneficial bug. They eat other insects we don't want to have around."

During the day, the beetle looks for a cool place, like under rocks, leaves and wood, to protect it from the sun. It will begin dying off in a few weeks, but the eggs of this one-generation insect have already been sewn in the ground for next year.

"Unfortunately, everybody gets this idea that if it's anything that crawls and has six legs, it's bad," Knight said. "If you kill (a beetle), you could be killing something that may go and kill something that you really don't want.

"I wouldn't kill it, but I'm an entomologist."

State entomological records shows the caterpillar hunter in the area as early as the 1970s. Records will likely be set this year in Carson, Washoe, Douglas and White Pine counties, Knight said.

After invasions of painted lady butterflies and now beetles, what's next? Knight says he's received several calls about the hummingbird moth, which seems to be appearing in slightly larger than normal numbers.

The beetles are keeping Houseweart busy at Wal-Mart, as he keeps the cart corrals beetle free. The teenager has seen so many of them, he's taken to squishing some of them just to help keep the numbers in check. One is squished on the bottom of his right black Vans shoe.

"I don't ever remember seeing them to this extent, not since I've lived here," he said. "Not at all."

n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at or 881-1219.


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