Sunflower Tortoise Beetle

It's been a while since I've posted two Nature Nuggets in one month, but I just couldn't resist! This one comes from my friend, Chris Helzer, who works for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. If you like this excerpt, check out his blog at

In his latest post, Chris said this:

The most fun recent sighting I’ve had came thanks to Claire Morrical, one of this year’s Hubbard Fellows. We were exploring the Niobrara Valley Preserve and she spotted some sunflower tortoise beetle larvae feeding on Jerusalem artichoke leaves (a perennial sunflower). I’ve written briefly about these creatures before, including their incredible strategy of waving poop-tipped tails above themselves to ward off predators.

Sunflower tortoise beetle larvae with their poopy tails held high as they feed.

Photo caption: Sunflower tortoise beetle larvae with their poopy tails held high as they feed.

As I was setting up to photograph the larvae, Claire called out again. "Hey," she said, "I don't want to interrupt you, but when you get done, come look at this amazing beetle I found over here!"

I quickly photographed the larvae and then walked the short distance to where Claire was admiring a shiny green/gold beetle sitting on another Jerusalem artichoke leaf. Unbelievably, it was an adult sunflower tortoise beetle! I've looked for one of these ever since first seeing the larvae a couple years ago, but hadn't ever found one. Claire found one within seconds of her first larvae sighting! Amazing.

A sunflower tortoise beetle in protective mode.

Sunflower tortoise beetles are well-named. This one was sitting flush to the leaf when I first saw it, hiding all its legs and body beneath its hard shell. It's easy to imagine ants or other predators fruitlessly trying and failing to get past that defense. As I watched, the beetle eventually lifted up slightly, exposing its fuzzy little feet. Wow!

It's hard to sit inside this time of year, knowing how many stories are playing out in the prairie RIGHT NOW. My square meter project has given me a lot of opportunities to watch lots of stories within a tiny area. Knowing how much happens at that scale makes it almost impossible to imagine what's all going on across acres and acres of prairie...

Hey - why are you sitting there looking at a screen? Go find some stories!

Add comment


There are no comments yet.