What do you get when you cross a turtle with a beetle? Besides a crazy looking, non-possible, mythical beast (please let me know if you see one though)… Why, the world’s cutest beetle of course! The simply adorable, tortoise beetle!
Maybe it’s just because I like bugs. Or because I like turtles. Or both… But I find these beetles to be the most endearing of critters. The tortoise beetle I found is the Clavate Tortoise Beetle (also known as the Translucent Tortoise Beetle), Plagiometriona Clavata (family: Chrysomelidae). Or Helocassis clavata if you are on iNaturalist, although it appears that this name is incorrect and the app apparently hasn’t updated their taxonomy yet. Taxonomy can get complicated and taxonomists don’t always agree on names, but all the primary sources I found say Plagiometriona Clavata is the correct name, so use that one…
The Clavate Tortoise Beetle is found throughout North America and into South America. Apparently its range is split by two subspecies though (an optional taxonomic level below species). One subspecies, Plagiometriona clavata clavata, is only found in the eastern parts of North America (east of the Great Plains), while the other subspecies, Plagiometriona clavata testudinaria, is only found in more western parts of North America and into South America. I’m not sure what differentiates the two subspecies, but sometimes geographic range and/or habitat type is enough.
While the Clavate Tortoise Beetle can be found in forests, grasslands, and meadows feeding on the leaves of Morning Glory, Horse Nettle, Jimson Weed, and other weedy Nightshade plants in the genus Solanum, it is more commonly found on farms or in gardens. Maybe this is because there are more people around to notice it. Or maybe it is because tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos are all in the nightshade plant family, clustered together for convenience, and suitable food sources for the beetle. Luckily, the Clavate Tortoise Beetle rarely does enough damage to be a significant garden pest. Which is good, because I really like them and did not want to have to choose between the beetle and my veggie plants. I don’t mind sharing a little though as long as the plant isn’t significantly damaged. Kinda like me sharing some of my parsley with the Black Swallowtails last year – although they did do notable damage unfortunately…
Now when I look at this beetle, I see a tortoise shaped critter, but many other people see a teddy bear. What do you think? Does the Clavate Tortoise Beetle look a bit teddy bear-like to you? If so, you are apparently not alone! Almost every source I looked at while fact checking mentioned the teddy bear-like appearance, lol. Despite the beetle looking like it has two “arms” and two “legs”, its legs (all six of them) are hidden underneath hardened wing covers (=elytra if you want to impress your friends). The whole area you are looking at is actually the beetle’s wing covers and not legs at all! Despite having wings and the ability to fly though, these beetles usually prefer to stay put and will usually just hunker down, retract their antennae (like a turtle retracting its limbs), and stay on whatever they are sitting on if disturbed. Usually a leaf they are eating. No sense leaving a good meal, right? The one I found must have been in between edible plants…
I so, so, so, wish I had a picture of the larvae (aka baby beetles) to show you. They sound totally bizarre, which of course makes them interesting to me… Apparently, the larvae have spiky sides and make “poop-shields” to defend themselves against predators! Kind of similar to the potato beetle larvae I found last year, but I think the Tortoise Beetle larvae look way cooler. Add to that, they have a “forked anal umbrella” to hold their stinky poop-shield. Need I say more? Lol. Check out these photos of the larvae on BugGuide here, here, and here.
To read more about the Clavate Tortoise Beetle, check out:
Check out my very cute Tortoise Beetle adorably cleaning its antennae… 😍
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