This week I want to introduce you to our small herd of Odontotaenius disjunctus, or Bess Beetles! These ground-dwelling, social insects belong to the family Passalidae, which contains 500 species of bess beetles or patent-leather beetles. While most species belonging to this family are tropical, O. disjunctus is native to eastern North America and lives in temperate forests in the US and Canada.
If you were to go out looking for bess beetles, your best bet would be to look under their favorite food: rotting logs. Unlike termites, bess beetles do not rely on specialized gut bacteria to digest their tough food source. Instead, they poop it out, wait for it to grow the perfect amount of fungus… and then eat it again. Nutritious.
Bess beetles are a bit of an anomaly to the beetle order (Coleoptera). Social behavior is commonly associated with ant colonies or honeybee hives, but beetles are typically solitary animals. Bess beetles are an exception. Bess beetle parents actively care for their young, going so far as to help their larvae construct a pupal case and even caring for them into the adult stage. Bess beetles are even able to communicate with the rest of their colony by using acoustic signals. They rub their abdomen against their wings (yep, they have wings hiding under those striated elytra) to produce a squeaking sound, and have specific signals to alert the colony of danger, attract a mate, and just generally communicate with each other.