One of the more beautiful beetles in Florida is the palm tortoise beetle or Florida tortoise beetle (Hemisphaerota cyanea). Palm tortoise beetles feed on palms and can often be found on the underside of palmetto leaves. The beetle itself is quite tiny – only 4 millimeters long and to the naked eye appears black, purple, or a very dark blue. At the macro level they are bright blue or purple. One easy way to find plants that host these little animals is to look for their larva. They appear like a small tuft of light brown curly hair or moss. What you are actually looking at is not the insect itself but its feces (more about that in a moment).
Two features of this beetle strike me as pretty cool. This first are its feet. Each tarsus is covered with as many as 10,000 tiny hairs that create as suction between the insect and the plant when the beetle secretes an oil. If you have ever tried to pick one up, it feels like it is glued down. The effect is similar to trying to pick up a wet, inverted plate on a smooth surface. The water creates surface tension and a vacuum. This defensive trick is enough to discourage mostpredators (and photographers).
The second unusual characteristic of this beetle is that the larva actually wear a little house out of their own fecal matter, like a basket-weaver makes a bowl. This sounds a bit icky, but the fecal shield resembles dried grass. It is also an incredibly effective camouflage and requires no time gathering materials, digging, or spinning silk.
Next time you are in palm scrub take a look at the palm leaves. You might just find one of these interesting creatures.
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