Lori caught this thing hanging out on our front porch a few days ago:
It was a dark, smooth beetle, about 1 1/2 inches long, sporting a rather fearsome pair of pinchers:I had never noticed this particular insect around the house before, so I spent some time trying to identify it. It wasn't an easy task, considering the fact that there are somewhere on the order of 350,000 known species of beetles, but I finally determined that this intimidating-looking bug is a hardwood stump borer (Mallodon dasystomus), a member of the longhorn beetle family. It is so named because its larvae reside within the trunks of hardwood trees such as oaks. The adults feed on ants and other tiny insects, which is what the pinchers are for. If they are handled improperly, of course, they can deliver a painful bite to humans as well.
Houston, with its location in the southern United States and its abundance of oaks and other hardwood trees, is indeed part of this beetle's habitat. I had just never been aware of them before. Apparently, neither had the staff of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, either, until recently.
After photographing and identifying this critter, I sent him on his way. However, I'm sure this won't be the last exotic insect I find lurking around the house.