This evening, as I was walking around the garden to see what I could see, I found one of my favorite North Carolina beetles. This is Alaus oculatus, the eyed elater or eastern eyed click beetle.
Click beetles are named for their defense mechanism: a hinge in the thorax can be flexed rapidly, propelling the insect high into the air with a loud click. The smaller species are often quick to click, and it is always amusing to watch one jump and spin across the floor away from a bemused cat.
A. oculatus is the largest North American click beetle, and in my experience they rarely click unless seriously harassed. When prodded, they seem to prefer folding in their legs and antennae to present a would-be predator with a hard carapace topped with those two threatening eye spots. Perhaps the elongated body with disproportionately large “eyes” resembles the head of snake.
I sometimes stumble across the larvae of A. oculatus when investigating rotten logs for interesting fauna. They are predators of other beetle grubs and look a bit like large flattened mealworms with menacing pincers.