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Sunday, May 16, 2010

A beetle in the bathtub
















The spider beetle, Gibbium aequinoctiale.




About once a year, first thing in the morning, I find one of these in my bathtub.

It stands out against the white background. It’s dark red, about one eighth of an inch long, and has a bulbous body, tiny head, and long expressive antennae the same color as its three pairs of legs. It sits in the tub, unexplained. If I touch it, it curls up and plays dead.

It’s a beetle, although it doesn’t fit most people’s mental image of a beetle. There are more than 350,000 kinds of beetles, and they come in lots of shapes and colors. This one looks a little bit like a spider because of its round body, and the long antennae can be easily mistaken for another pair of legs, which would add up to eight -- the number of legs on a spider.

Spider beetles also get misidentified as bedbugs pretty often because of they are the same color. Everyone is always happy to find out they are wrong about that!  Bedbugs are flat, not globe shaped.

Scientists usually report that spider beetles eat “a variety of dead materials of animal and plant origin,” including flour, old wood, seeds, wool, feathers, leather, and fabrics. Spider beetle can be pests of stored food products, and actually will eat almost anything dry, including more appealing sounding things like breakfast cereal, figs, instant soup mix, rye bread, spices, and chocolate powder. 

Hmmm. None of these things are ever found in my bathtub…so why do I always only ever find spider beetles there?

They forage at night, and most of them scurry back to their day resting places before I rise. But about once a year, an errant beetle making its nightly rounds discovers the dark bathroom. They are attracted to moisture. Exploring. Climbing. Oh no! It falls into the tub! It can’t get out! Morning comes, and behold – there is a beetle in the bathtub.




















There is more information about spider beetles in my book, A Field Guide to Urban Wildlife of North America, which will be published by Stackpole Books in spring 2011. 

21 comments:

  1. I CAN NOT believe I found this blog.
    I have two sitting in a plastic container on my sink. They WERE in the tub.

    I thought they were either ticks or bedbugs.

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
    I will not freak out now.

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    Replies
    1. Great that it was just spider beetles and not ticks or bedbugs! Spider beetle identification is often accompanied by sighs of relief. I think they are actually sort of cute. :)

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  2. Great blog, too.
    I walk Central Park a lot, too.
    It keeps me sane.

    BTW: we couldn't kill the beetle, so we put it outside.

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  3. I'm so glad I found this for two reasons. One, I just found one of these on my bed and wanted to know what it was, and two, I happen to have just purchased a membership to your museum. Yay.

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    Replies
    1. It's good to know what they are since they show up in the home every now and then. Congratulations on your membership and welcome -- I'm sure you will love it!

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  4. I keep finding these crawling up the wall of my bathroom and I just found 2 dead ones in my light fixture. Was worried they were bed bugs or ticks, too. Thanks!

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  5. I found two of these on the baseboard next to my bed and also like 10 of them all together in the cat litter. Why the cat litter, and do they bite?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Maria, They don't bite or sting people or pets. They do take tiny little bites of paper and stored grain and animal products and the other things they eat. I have read that they eat rodent droppings. But I believe they are essentially harmless in small numbers.

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  6. OHMYGOD. I've been googling bed beg information ALL night because I found one of these in my bathtub and later another crawling on my shirt (about 15 minutes after I had taken a shower, so it's not too far out there, right?). Every picture I saw of a bed bug didn't fit, and I was combing through my mattress looking for more without success. Thank GOD for this blog post or I would have been on the phone with my landlady tomorrow morning after a very sleepless night.

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    Replies
    1. I am happy to be the bringer of good news! :-)

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    2. Yes indeed Julie, you are the "bringer" and reliever of GREAT news;) Although I knew they weren't a bed bug...I was thinking along the lines of a tick also. Wondering, racking my brain how the heck does a tick get into my Brooklyn bath tub.(more than one time) THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

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  7. I used to get a lot of these in my bathroom light fixture when I lived in Woodside, Queens. A lot of them. I remember them being closer to black though. But that could have been due to the lighting.

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    Replies
    1. I have seen them looking black in different light, yes.

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  8. I found a total of 7 of these guys in my bedroom after a trip to Gettysburg where a few friends were bitten by ticks (one got lyme). I assumed these too were ticks and got blood work done just in case. I wish I found this website earlier, this puts my mind at ease. Thank you!

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    Replies
    1. I know what you mean. It is usually a big relief to find out these are not bedbugs or ticks, which they are often mistaken for.

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  9. Ah, thank you for this post! I have seen quite a few of these little fellows in my basement apartment, especially in the bathroom. I am not worried about them--only curious as to what they could possibly be eating. I was not expecting to identify them so easily by searching for "red beetle in the bathroom," but your image popped up right away! I think that they are rather cute. My bathroom is also inhabited by cellar spiders and black sugar ants. I occasionally scoop out the spiders and move them to the boiler room, but they always manage to find their way back. Unlike most folks, having arthropods in the home does not bother me. I especially appreciate their presence in the winter, when my surroundings feel a bit lifeless. I enjoy putting out food for the ants and watching them retrieve it. Their teamwork and strength is so impressive. Much of my free time in the warmer months is spent raising, identifying, and observing insects. Anyhow, thank you for this post! Now I can easily learn more about these spider beetles, and maybe even feed the one that I captured!

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  10. Oh my goodness! I am so glad I found your page. I have about twenty or so dead ones in a light fixture I just found, and see them in the tub and around the floor frequently, and was about to freak when I started looking at pictures of ticks, and bedbug descriptions. They just didn't quite match up, and I'm so glad I kept reading. This description of the spider beetle much-better fits what I've been finding!! Thank you!

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  11. Oh my goodness! I have about fifty in a light fixture I just found, and see them in the tub and around the floor frequently, and was about to freak when I started looking at pictures of ticks, and bedbug descriptions. This description of the spider beetle much-better fits what I've been finding!! Thank you!

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  12. Another thank you! I just moved in to the city and i found one in the tub one day. The next day one in my sink. When i saw the one in the sink I remembered a video i saw about bedbugs and thought oh no! Please let me be wrong! They are definitely spider beetles. I feel much better now. Although still since ive moved here something has been driving my skin crazy. No bumps or anything im just itchy. Incessantly at times to the point it keeps me awake sometimes. Just glad its not bed bugs!

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