Violin Beetle

Evolution has created a ton of critters with weird body shapes and body plans. When it comes to insects, that goes double. Insects sport some of the weirdest appearances in the animal kingdom and there is no shortage of crazy-looking bugs out there to gawk at.

The violin beetle (Mormolyce phyllodes) probably is among the weirdest looking bugs and for good reason. This bug is named after the flat shape of its carapace that has been likened to a violin or a guitar. Read on to learn more about this wacky and wonderful creature.

Credit: D. Culbert via WikiCommons CC-BY 2.0

Violin Beetle Appearance

The violin beetle typically measures between 60-100 mm long and posses a flat, leaf-shaped body that is usually a shiny black or worn color. The shape and color of their abdomen are useful for camouflage as they can blend into the forest floor to avoid predators. They can also slip into cracks in trees and rocks when they need to make a quick escape.

Like all insects, violin beetles have 6 legs, 3 body segments, and a pair of antennae on their heads. Their antennae and legs are very long and pronounced compared to their overall size. They are found mostly in Southeast Asia on the islands of Indonesia and surrounding locations, though they also can be found on mainland Asia.

Like many other species of beetles, violin beetles cannot fly. Their wing casings have fused together over millennia of evolution rendering their wings functionally useless for flight. The flattened part of their carapace is translucent as well, which adds an extra layer of camouflage for avoiding predators.

Credit: A. Anker via WikiCommons CC-BY-SA 1.0

Most violin beetles are fairly small and only grow to about 2 inches long, but there are reports of individual specimens reaching at least 6 inches wide. They also have spiny ridges along their thorax below the head which serves as an extra layer of protection from predators.

Violin Beetle Behavior

Unlike many species of beetle, both violin larvae and adults are fierce predators. They are strictly carnivorous and feed mostly on insect larvae of other species but are sometimes known to eat the larvae of their own. Violin beetles will sneak up on their prey and quickly bite them with their relatively powerful jaws.

In fact, this penchant for biting explains their genus name. The name Mormolyce comes from the Greek mythology of Mormo, a woodland spirit that would supposedly come to bite children when they misbehaved. Like Mormo, violin beetles like to bite. They are not known to be aggressive though, and will usually stay away from humans.

Violin beetles also have a very interesting self-defense tactic. When threatened, they can spray butyric acid from their hindquarters which can stun and blind predators by irritating their eyes. While butyric acid is not deadly by any means, it can be quite a pain and annoyance, giving them enough time to slip away amongst the forest floor. It has been said that this acidic spray is strong enough to numb a human hand.