The Escargot-getter

PROMO Intro Scaphinotus 512x219

Emerging from a rotted log, the beetle scurries across the path, its purple-black carapace agleam in the woodland gloaming at Nestucca Bay NWR. The waning daylight is its signal to grow active and alert—time to get up and start the night’s work. It is a ground beetle (Scaphinotus angusticollis), and its morphology attests to a lifestyle most terrestrial: long, nimble legs to hold the body high off the soil, and fused elytra, or wing covers, precluding even rudimentary flight. The beetle’s narrow head, sharp, tearing mandibles, and nocturnal propensities are further clues to its adaptive lifestyle. Darting to and fro across the forest floor, it searches for the telltale trails of slime that lead directly to its unctuous prey: slugs and snails.

Carabidae, the ground beetle family, comprises more than 40,000 species worldwide. Most of these beetles are flightless; many sport black or metallic hues. They are fleet-footed predators, hunting by day and by night. Almost all ground beetles possess structures in the abdomen called pygidial glands that produce noxious chemicals; these are variously exuded, sprayed, or even combusted—such as in the bombardier beetle—to deter predation. S. angusticollis emits a sickly-sweet odor when disturbed, a smell probably familiar to the gardener who encourages their presence in snail-infested lettuce rows and flowerbeds.