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American Oil Beetle (Meloe americanus)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the American Oil Beetle

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Image Credit: Scott S. from Denville, NJ
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Plain and small in stature, the seemingly simple American Oil Beetle has a few noteworthy tricks up its sleeve.

Updated: 01/02/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
American Oil Beetles are a type of Blister beetle. When threatened or squeezed under pressure, they emit a chemical called cantharidin that creates blisters and irritates human skin. These wounds will heal, but they are painful. This chemical defense can ward off predators and give the beetle time to escape.

American Oil Beetles have a soft, yet stout abdomen with a shell covering that looks like a series of overlapping plates. The insect can appear as a dull black or, in some cases, a shiny black or dark blue. The surface texture is slightly bumpy, not slick and smooth. Antennae are visible on the head.

These particular beetles do not fly and are slow movers. Adults can be found gingerly walking around plants they eat, such as buttercups, and in grass. They are active all year, but more so in the spring, when they are more likely to be seen. The larvae are somewhat devious. One will sit on flowers, waiting for a bee to land. It will latch onto the bee for a free ride back to the hive. Once there, the beetle larva feeds on the same food as the bee larvae. It will pupate safely inside and emerge in the spring. ©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Burning icon
Harmful insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Coleoptera
        Family: Meloidae
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          Genus: Meloe
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            Species: americanus

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Meloe americanus
Other Name(s): Buttercup Oil Beetle
Category: Beetle
Size (Adult; Length): 7mm to 17mm (0.27" to 0.66")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; blue
Descriptors: black; rough; bumpy; harmful; blister; burn

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 7mm (0.3in) and 17mm (0.7in)
Lo: 7mm
Md: 12mm
Hi: 17mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
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Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
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Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the American Oil Beetle may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the American Oil Beetle. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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