This beetle not a threat; it’s actually pleasing

The pleasing fungus beetle, found in our local forests, is about 1 inch long. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Darrin Parmenter

The pleasing fungus beetle, found in our local forests, is about 1 inch long.

Editor’s note: Get Growing, written by the La Plata County Extension Office’s Master Gardener Program, appears every other week during the growing season. It features timely tips and suggestions for your garden and landscape.

By Darrin Parmenter

While I easily could opine about the trials and tribulations of last weekend’s two-day camping trip at Vallecito Reservoir to celebrate my daughter’s birthday – full of glow sticks, s’mores, paddleboarding and ghost stories – I would much prefer to describe one of the unintended treats of the trip.

The pleasing fungus beetle.

In most cases, the combination of six 9-year-old girls and a forest full of beetles may not yield the most positive results. And in the beginning, the random insects on one’s shirt or in one’s shoes caused quite the fright.

But by the end of the camping trip, the beetles had become residents of mud houses, best friends of Littlest Pet Shop action figures and even desired pets.

The adult pleasing fungus beetle (Gibbifer californicus), which is visible throughout the forest right now, typically is about 1 inch long, oval in shape and has a dark head.

What makes it distinctive is the color of its wing covers, or elytra, as they are a metallic shade of purple or blue with dark indented spots.

I tend to get at least a dozen phone calls a year regarding this unique insect, as people are sure that it is destroying their conifers, much like the dreaded ips beetle or mountain pine bark beetle.

But alas, the pleasing fungus beetle primarily feeds on soft conk fungi growing on aspen, ponderosa pine and fallen logs. And much like a popup tent full of 9-year-olds, their appetites can be voracious, consuming large quantities of fungi during the spring (larval stage) and summer (adult stage) months.

In the spring, you may also see the larvae hang from the underside of logs, sometimes in dense clusters of several dozen, imitating what looks like a miniature bat roost.

parmenterdm@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.