What is the point?  

The point in question was at the end of a surprisingly long appendage emerging from the underside of a surprisingly large beetle. Could the beetle have been dragging some debris along? Or was it a weapon-like accessory for protection? Or was it something else? 

It was something else.   

A broad-necked root borer beetle was the owner of this attachment, or more accurately, ovipositor. An ovipositor is a tube-like organ designed to deposit eggs, and its extension was a signal that this insect was all girl and ready to sire the next generation of giant beetles.  

Female broad-necked root borer beetles use their ovipositor to deposit eggs in the soil. This is the best place for her young to develop, because after hatching, larvae will seek out roots on which to feed. Preferring oaks, chestnut and poplar trees, these borers spend their time underground eating and growing to a more than three-inch grub. After pupation, they will emerge from the soil as adult beetles.   This insect is a type of long-horned beetle and a forest dweller, though these beetles can also be found in other places. Males are attracted to the lights from our homes, and so can also be seen in our yards. And since the adult beetles

also like to eat vegetation, especially leaves from fruit trees and grape vines, they might not just be passing through, but rather grazing your greenery.  

Hailing from the prionis genus of beetles, this particular species bear the surname of laticollis.  The latter name describes its wide neck, and they are also called giant root borers. Size is everything for the big beetle. Males top out at around an inch and a half, though not as impressive as females whose length as adults can reach three inches (without that emergent ovipositor).    

Reports of these root borers come in often, sometimes because of their imposing size and other times because of their resemblance to the invasive Asian long-horned beetle, which requires reporting and, at present, hasn’t been documented on-island. An observable difference between the two beetles are white markings on the exoskeleton, present on the Asian long-horned beetle and absent on the broad-necked root borer.  

Either species (and many other giant beetles) elicit fear and aversion; however, there is a figure for whom this and other species were a delight. Dru Drury, 18th century British entomologist and natural history author, is the man credited with naming and documenting this particular root borer and many other beetles. He collected insects from around the world, offering “6 dimes for any insect of any size from officers of travelling merchant ships.” But beetles were his favorite, as he affectionately explained: “The beetles which were in ye spirits among the other things were very acceptable and exceedingly pretty, insomuch as I cannot help placing them in ye foremost rank of all the specimens you have now sent…..I must confess do really afford me the greatest pleasure of all animals.” 

He clearly got the point.  

Suzan Bellincampi is islands director for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown and the Nantucket Wildlife Sanctuaries. She is also the author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.