As light faded along the log’s rim, Suzi patiently waited for Sam. She was astonished by all she had learned from Benjamin and his family. Not yet two years old, Ben and his two brothers and fourteen sisters lived with their parents, Chris and Lauren. Ben had proudly announced that his elytra had recently turned from a reddish brown to black. Elytra is the hard outer shell that protects the delicate flight wings of all beetles. Suzi was impressed with her growing vocabulary.
Ben looked like his parents and ate rotten wood just like a grownup bess beetle. Benjamin bragged that they grew their own healthy food…sort of.
Confused, Suzi asked, “What did you eat as a baby beetle?” Suzi had only eaten sap for years.
“My parents made all our meals for us when us kids were young. For about a year, we looked different. In our baby pictures, we looked like short, fat, cream-colored worms with tan heads. Our parents are great chefs. They chewed up wood and mixed it with their frass so that we could grow up big and strong!”
“Excuse me? What is frass? You can’t imagine what I thought when you said that,” chuckled Suzi.
Benjamin’s dad turned and said, “Let me take it from here, son. Frass is the fancy name for insect poop.”
“WHAT! Then what I was thinking was right. That sounds just awful,” barked Suzi, forgetting her manners.
Chris continued, “Actually a lot of creatures reuse their poop with great success. I will let you in on a little secret. Everyone in our log neighborhood believes that all we eat is wood. We are considered nature’s recycler. For the last three years, we have received the Woodland #1 Decomposer Award. But we do not get our energy from eating wood like termites do. We munch the rotting wood and then poop. A lot. A fungus grows on our poop, and that is what we use for nutrition. We have lots of uses for our frass. We wrap our precious babies in a nest of crumbled wood and poop. So warm and cozy!”
Suzi was flabbergasted. Her mouth at the end of her proboscis hung open. These perfectly nice beetles now seemed to be crazy. Fortunately, the bess beetle family thought Suzi was in awe of their cleverness. They took no offense.
After a few moments, Suzi rallied by responding, “I am just speechless. I would never have guessed. You are quite…..resourceful.”
Benjamin puffed out his thorax, since insects do not have a chest, and boasted, “When my little brothers and sisters are ready to meta-mor-phose into an adult, I am going to help pack frass around each one for their cocoon!”
Suzi waited until the bess beetles’ cheering had quieted before she said, “I am sure that will be a memorable day for all.” Suzi was more anxious than ever to leave. Fortunately, right then Sam strolled up to the happy group. True to form, Sam took a few minutes to settle before he presented his warning.
Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Center Manager of Hidden Oaks Nature Center, which is home to lots and lots of cicadas!