There is no mistaking the inky blue-black domed form of Timarcha tenebricosa — the bloody nose beetle. I let out a little squeal of joy when the 17-year-old bent down and scooped this up from the grass at the edge of the track through Chysauster Ancient Village, Cornwall, a couple of days ago.
This is an insect from my childhood, and no walk over the Sussex South Downs (literally out the door and up the hill) was complete unless we’d found one of them bumbling through the herbage. Occasionally we’d find the equally inky blue-black and slightly oily-looking larvae feeding on goose grass or bedstraw, and more than once we took some home to rear through to adulthood.
The first time I picked one up, slightly roughly as a 6-year-old I guess, it exuded so much red liquor that I half thought it was my own blood, and that the beast had bitten me. That startle factor may well have been part of its defensive ploy — together with the bitter taste, which I did not try until much later in my life.
So much part of our lives were these insects that one even featured in the bedtime stories my Dad told us; along with Willie Stag Beetle, his wife Agatha, and Leggyleg the centipede, Ermintrude Squiggle was often called upon to write some secret message using her own bright red blood. Yes, I know that sounds rather gothic now, but these were just everyday tales of insect folk, for us, back in the day.
We were very gentle with Mr Squiggle (large broad front feet = male) at Chysauster and no haemolymph was spilled or secreted. After much admiration and some publicity stills he was sent waddling his clockwork way off through the flowery sward.