It was a standoff in my own living room. The stranger and I faced each other, both completely still. I could almost hear that eerie whistle from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
The stranger was dressed in black. I was dressed in black yoga pants. I towered over my challenger, who was only an inch long. But still, it looked fierce, and I knew it had a secret weapon. Which one of us would still be standing after this showdown?
This foe goes by many names: pinacate beetle, darkling beetle, clown bug, stink bug. As far as I know, it was Eleodes obscura, a beetle that lives all over the west. I’ve seen them plenty of times on trails, but I’d never seen one in my house. This one lowered its head and raised its beetle bum. It was ready.
I looked for a second. “Hey, buddy,” I whispered to my son. “Come look at this.” He approached, made an eww sound, and went back to watching Curious George. So much for sidekicks.
In the wild, the darkling beetle has few predators, because of the stinky, oily secretion it produces. Some large species of Eleodes can spray their stink as much as 20 inches. The grasshopper mouse avoids this problem by squishing the beetle’s bum into the ground and eating the head first.
I didn’t want to eat the beetle, I just wanted it off my floor. I went to get a glass. By the time I returned, the beetle had disappeared, possibly underneath the bookshelf. I set up an ambush. I sat very quietly on the arm of the couch, pretending to watch Curious George, until the beetle emerged. Slowly, very slowly, I tiptoed over to it. It didn’t notice anything until I’d trapped it under the jar.
Then it released its secret weapon. Even trapped in the jar, the bug smelled awful. The smell even roused my son from his video. (“That really stinks!”) I flipped over the jar and raced outside, hurling the bug into a bush with pink flowers.
The smell was still everywhere. I went back inside and flopped onto the couch. There was nothing left to do but watch Curious George. Somewhere in the bushes, the stink bug was whistling.
Unlike Helen Fields (who writes a delightful series about bugs on her window), I was too rattled by the confrontation to take photos. The image above is by Flickr user Josh More under Creative Commons license.