Identify this bug?
June 23, 2012 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Is this a termite or not? Should I freak out or not?

I live in Tokyo, Japan. Since I moved in last September I've found several of these bugs (about 10 so far) sometimes dead on the floor and sometimes crawling around on my desk or bed (ew...) always alone. They look somewhat similar to alate termite pictures I've found on the net, but their bodies appear flatter/less cylindrical.

The one in the picture is slightly squashed so its hind end is wider than when it was alive. It's about 4mm.

I'm really hoping they aren't termites living in my bed's headboard or desk (our apartment building is concrete)... :(
posted by monocot to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
It's hard to tell since it's smooshed and all, but that looks like some sort of grain weevil or beetle to me.

Do you ever find these bugs where you store food? Do you keep a box of crackers or something in your desk?
posted by BlueJae at 10:31 AM on June 23, 2012

No. Beetles (order Coleoptera) have a very characteristic appearance that you can see here - below their head, there is a straight line down the middle of their thorax and abdomen. This line is where their two "elytra," hardened wing covers, come together. You can clearly see such a line in your picture. Termites do not have that; the reproductive males and females (alates, as you say) have 4 overlapping wings. They fold over each other in an oval shape, with no visible line in the center. Also, every termite alate I've ever seen has wings that extend beyond the end of their abdomen. Clearly, that isn't happening here.
posted by Buckt at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2012

Also, fun fact because I like bugs and, while I understand your fear, you shouldn't be concerned about the economic damage of any insect you see (an overwhelming majority are economically beneficial to humans). Termites used to be classified in the order "Isoptera," and were known to be closely related to cockroaches (order Blattodea), but recent genetic data has shown that termites are actually nested within the cockroach order - we now know that all termites are simply one family of very very weird ("highly derived"), social cockroaches. Evolution happens fast, such that cockroaches can exists for a hundred million years looking and acting much the same as they do now, but then one quirky group of them can start doing something new (eating wood) and in the span of a few hundred thousand years become so unrecognizable that it takes DNA evidence to even realize they're members of the same group.

Beetles, as this one, are also quite fascinating simply because of their diversity. These numbers are likely not up-to-date, but I learned in school that there are 350,000 known species of beetle, and 400,000 species of all non-arthropod life. That is, all plants, fungi, bacteria, protists, nematode worms, and cephalopods have a combined 400,000 species while BEETLES ALONE have 350,000 species. This fact caused pivotal biologist JBS Haldane to tell a priest, when asked about the nature of God, "God has an inordinate fondness for beetles." Actually, that story probably never happened, but we like to tell it anyway.
posted by Buckt at 11:17 AM on June 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

That does not look like a termite to me.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:46 PM on June 23, 2012

(Oh, and vertebrates are included in that 400,000. Everything alive except for other arthropods (which comprise insects, arachnids, and crustaceans) combine to a total of 400,000, but beetles alone combine to 350,000.
posted by Buckt at 1:44 PM on June 23, 2012

Just chiming in with the "not a termite" chorus. It's clearly a beetle of some kind. (Which, as Buckt says, is pretty much a good guessin general. If asked to identify a totally unknown multicellular organism, you will be right about 25% of the time if you guess that it's some kind of beetle even if you don't even bother to look at it – just through sheer statistics.) Buckt is your man/woman on this issue though, as an entymologist-in-training he/she is as close as you're likely to get around here to An Expert On This.
posted by Scientist at 6:18 PM on June 23, 2012

Thanks everyone for your help, especially Buckt! At first I thought it was a termite whose wings have dropped off but obviously this isn't the case, just a beetle-that-shaped-marginally-like-a-termite. Actually I think it's a grain beetle now (it looks exactly like this).

I guess there's nothing to worry about a few of them living in my apartment...? (Carpet beetles caused us considerable trouble in my last year at uni, so.)
posted by monocot at 5:31 AM on June 24, 2012

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