The raccoons at Camp Salmen are always teaching me new tricks. I recently watched one tearing apart a huge log with his bare paws — a log I thought was solid and intact. He was working right next to the Bayou Liberty boardwalk and didn’t seem to care one whit whether I was watching. The fallen section of pine tree he was on was a leftover from Hurricane Katrina, some eight years ago. Little did I know how ripe and ready it was to become partially demolished by Mr. ‘Coon as he sought the big, tasty white grub worms inside. Yum! No wonder he was so preoccupied.
What is a grub? It is a beetle larva, and the bigger the grub the bigger the beetle. There are tens of thousands of species of beetles and the family of Scarabaeidaeis one of the most popular. Their classic, colorful, armored form inspired theScarab jewelry once wildly popular with the Ancient Egyptians. Somehow they translated the life cycle of the beetle — from egg to grub to beetle and back to egg — into a metaphor for the daily cycle of “Ra,” the Sun.
Many people are familiar with the curled white grubs found when digging in local soil. One of the most popular species that lives here becomes the prolific “June bug” beetle (Phyllophaga) each spring. These larvae cause horticulturalists and homeowners headaches when they feed on the roots of grasses and kill off lawn turf.
Other types of beetle larvae use another kind of feeding strategy: burrowing into and literally eating through moist rotten logs that are full of flavorful “white-rot.” The hurricane left a massive amount of dead wood on the ground at Camp Salmen. This was a banner event for the “decomposers” (any organism that makes a living by eating dead stuff) and creatures like woodpeckers and raccoons that mine decomposers out of dead wood and eat them. (Human entomophagists — insect eaters — prefer them sautéed in butter with a touch of garlic, but that’s another story, one probably not suitable for a family newspaper.)
What Mr. ‘Coon was probably after were the nice big Giant Stag Beetle (Lucanus elaphus) larvae who like eating the rotten logs found across Dixie Land. These are the beetles that have the large, ornate jaws and horns; appendages all the better for attracting females and tussling with rival males. As ferocious as they appear, these jaws are mostly for show and can barely “goose” another beetle, much less rip into human flesh. So, if you find one of these scarabs in the park, don’t be afraid to pick him up and pet him before you let him go on his way.