Class: Insecta (Insect)
Families: over 230
Species: over 350,000 known species
Body length: longest—long-horned beetle Titanus giganteus, up to 7 inches (18 centimeters); smallest—feather-winged beetle Nanosella fungi, 0.02 inches (0.5 millimeters)
Weight: heaviest—Goliath beetle Goliathus goliathus, up to 3.5 ounces (100 grams); lightest—feather-winged beetle, 0.0006 grains ( 0.4 milligrams)
Life span: 13 weeks to 12 years, depending on species
Incubation: a few days to several months, depending on species
Number of eggs laid: from a few to thousands, depending on species
Conservation status: many known species are at critical risk, including Frigate Island giant tenebrionid Polposipus herculeanus, delta green ground beetle Elaphrus viridis, and American burying beetle Nicrophorus americanus.
• Most beetles have a hard time righting
themselves when turned upside down. But the click
beetle (of the family Elateridae) has a special mechanism
on the underside of its body that helps the beetle
spring into the air to right itself. The beetle
makes a clicking sound when it does this, hence the
• Many beetles make squeaking noises by rubbing parts of the body together or by tapping on hard surfaces. They have better hearing than beetles that do not make sounds.
• The larvae of an Indian species of long-horned beetle have been known to live for 10 years in captivity, but the adults only live a few months at most.
• How do diving beetles breathe underwater? They capture surface air and store it under their wing covers. Sunburst diving beetles Thermonectus marmoratus carry a bubble on their rear end. This bubble pulls oxygen from the water and helps the beetle stay under just a little longer.
Benefits beetles provide
• Beetles create usable soil for vegetation by eating
animal waste, rotten wood, and animal carcasses.
• Beetles pollinate flowers-California's state flower, the California poppy, is pollinated by a beetle species!
• Beetles keep other insect populations in balance through predation.
Range: almost everywhere except oceans, seas, and Antarctica.
Beetles are the largest group in the Animal Kingdom, representing a fourth of all animals. They have lived on Earth for about 300 million years and can be found almost everywhere, from deserts to lakes, rain forests to polar ice caps. Currently, more than 350,000 species of beetles have been identified. Yet scientists who study beetles (coleopterists) are certain there are thousands more that have not been discovered yet!
You may be familiar with some of the many different beetle species by their common names: ladybugs, June bugs, weevils, lightning bugs or fireflies, borers, and potato bugs. No other animal group has such a range of color, shape, and size. Some beetle species are as large as your fist; others are so small they can fit through the eye of a needle. Many species are brilliantly colored, like jewels, while others cleverly blend in to their environment. No matter what shape, size, or color, it is safe to say that beetles are the most successful group of animals ever known!
Beetle body parts
The body of the beetle consists of three main segments: head, thorax, and abdomen.
Thorax—The thorax is the powerhouse of the beetle body, divided into three parts. The beetle's six legs and its wings are attached to these parts. Thick, hardened front wings, called elytra, cover most of the beetle's body and its back wings, giving it great protection. Some species are able to trap moisture under their wings, helping them survive in deserts where water is scarce. Other species can live underwater because they are able to trap air under the elytra.
Abdomen—The abdomen contains the organs for digestion and reproduction. A tough exoskeleton and the elytra protect the beetle's soft membranes and keeps the beetle from drying out or getting waterlogged.
Most beetles can fly, although they fly in a slow, clumsy manner. Water beetles are good swimmers and many can fly as well. Some beetle species that live in deserts have lost the ability to fly. All beetles have jointed legs, but leg shape and size varies, depending on the beetle's lifestyle. For example, long and slender legs are made for speed (ground beetles, Carabidae family); broad and ridged legs are for digging (dung beetles, Scarabaeidae family); legs curved and shaped like a paddle are for swimming (water beetles, Hydrophilidae family); and large hind legs are for hopping (flea beetles, Chrysomelidae family). Some species even have a sticky pad on the bottom of each foot to help them walk up slippery surfaces. All species have a pair of claws on each foot.
Most beetle species live on land. They tunnel underground, or in wood, or in the carcasses of animals. Some live in the nests of ants and termites: the nest protects the beetle from predators, and the beetles keep the area clean by eating the ants' waste!
Egg— Beetle eggs are usually soft and smooth. They can be laid in the soil, in wood, under tree bark, on leaves, or in carcasses. Depending on the species, a female may lay a single egg (like chafers, Scarabaeidae family) or a batch of several thousand (such as oil beetles, Meloidae family). Most females do not take care of the eggs once they are laid.
Larva— Looking like worms or caterpillars, beetle larvae hatch from eggs. They are sometimes called grubs at this stage. Most beetle larvae have from one to six simple eyes on each side of the head and mouthparts for eating. They eat and grow, molting as they get bigger and bigger.
Pupa— At the end of the larval stage, the grubs either create a pupation cell or find a safe place to go to protect their bodies while their bodies change. For example, scarabs form their protective cell out of soil, wood particles, and their own saliva; diving beetles burrow into the bank of a water source; many species of wood boring beetles just stop eating and pupate within their own feeding tunnels. Beetles that go through a pupal stage develop the adult legs, wings, antennae, and reproductive system. However, a few families of beetles skip the entire pupal stage and keep the features of the larva!
Adult— When the adult beetle emerges from the pupal stage, its body is soft and pale. Soon, the body covering becomes hard and the beetle's true colors appear. The hind wings and elytra push to the outside of the body.
Beetles eat almost everything: plants, other insects, carcasses, and dung. Some beetles living in water eat fish and tadpoles; Phosphuga atrata eats snails. Most beetles have a very good sense of smell to help them find food. A beetle's front jaws, called mandibles, vary in size and shape depending on the species. Predatory beetles have extended mandibles that can seize, cut, or crush prey. Specialized nectar feeders have tube-like mouthparts. In turn, many animals and even some carnivorous plants eat beetles!
Antennae on the beetle's head work like feelers to help the beetle find food, a mate, and places to lay eggs. This special body part also alerts the beetle to vibrations in the air that could mean a predator is near. Beetles use their legs to regularly clean their important antennae. They also have tiny hairs on their bodies, called setae, that are sensitive to touch, sound, smell, taste, and light.
"Eye" see you!
Most beetles have compound eyes (eyes that are divided into many six-sided compartments). Compound eyes are very sensitive to movement and can probably see in color. Beetles that rely on vision for hunting (ground beetles) or breeding (fireflies, Lampyridae family) have larger eyes. Whirligig beetles (Gyrinidae family), which swim on the surface of ponds, have divided eyes: one half for vision under water, the other for seeing above the water.
Beetles have a lot of different ways to protect themselves from becoming someone else's lunch. The hard, shiny elytra is often enough to keep a beetle safe from other insects-or other beetles! Dome-shaped leaf beetles (Coccinelidae family) and ladybird beetles (Chrysomelidae family) pull their legs and antennae under this "shell," just like a turtle does. Some ladybird beetles release sticky yellow blood from their legs to gum up the antennae and mouthparts of the attacker. Flightless ground beetles squirt out jets of formic acid, which will burn the skin and cause eye damage. Leaf beetle larvae are so poisonous that Kalahari bushmen use them to tip their hunting arrows. Brightly colored or patterned beetles usually taste very bad to predators. And camouflage works great for beetles that live under rocks or bark, or in the soil.
Beetles and people
Many beetle species are considered by humans to be pests. These beetle pests cause millions of dollars in damage to plant products and transmit disease. Woodworm beetles (Anobiidae family) can eat furniture and wood floors; weevils (Curculionoidae superfamily) attack crops, such as cotton, apples, corn, and more. The Colorado, or potato, beetle Leptinotarsa decemlineata can destroy a potato crop. However, not all beetles are harmful. Farmers often release ladybird beetles to eat aphids and other insects that might hurt a crop. Ground beetles feed on those nasty potato beetles! Be sure to check the Quick Facts sidebar for more ways beetles benefit us all.