Beetles are the most diverse group among all insects. These beetle facts show that these insects represent about 25% of all known life forms, with over 400,000 species. Moreover, insects can eat almost anything! They can eat plants, hunt down fellow invertebrates, and even feast on poop.
Beetles can be pets, but some species are also pests. They lay their eggs on flowers, tree bark, carrion, and feces. Read on for all the brilliant beetle facts you might want to know.
Beetles, belonging to the order Coleoptera, are incredibly diverse insects that comprise a quarter of all known living organisms! There are an estimated 400,000 identified species of beetles, with so many species yet to be discovered1. Among them, there are size variations that would make your jaw drop.
On one end of the scale, we have the almost invisible feather-winged beetles, no larger than 0.01 inches. The Fringed Ant Beetle (Nymphister Kronaueri) is the smallest beetle and measures around 0.25 millimeters in length. On the other end, the Goliath Beetle, which can grow to 6.7 inches and weigh 1.8 ounces, is one of the longest and heaviest insects in the world.
Furthermore, beetles live in almost every habitat except the extreme polar regions. They live in the driest deserts and the wettest tropical rainforests!
Beetles eat almost anything. Most beetles are plant feeders, consuming plant material such as leaves, stems, fruits, pollen, and wood. Adult beetles chew through their specialized mouthparts called mandibles.
Then there are Fungus Beetles. You'll find them in the nooks and crannies of rotting wood, relishing the fungal growths that thrive there. Ladybugs, on the other hand, are carnivores. These tiny warriors hunt down aphids and mites, helping control insect pests in our gardens.
The Dung Beetle has a rather unique and vital dietary role. They're attracted to animal waste, which serves as a meal and an ideal nursery for their offspring. And let's remember the Carrion Beetles, nature's cleanup crew, making a meal out of the decaying remains of other animals.
One interesting fact about beetles is that they use a form of pollination known as "mess and soil" pollination. Unlike bees and butterflies, these insects can eat all parts of a plant, from pollen and other floral tissues to even the bark of trees. They even poop within the flowers.
They are the primary pollinators of primitive flowering plants like cycads, magnolias, and water lilies. These plants often have large, bowl-shaped, or cup-shaped flowers that are more open and accessible to beetles than those targeted by bees or butterflies.
People worldwide cherish beetles as pets due to their distinct appearance, bright colors, and low-maintenance lifestyles. Rhinoceros Beetles are famous in Japan, especially among young boys. These species are initially caught outdoors but are now displayed in pet and department stores.
However, not all beetles receive the same admiration. The Colorado Potato Beetle, for instance, is notorious for its destructive nature.
The larvae and adult individuals consume the potato plant - from their leaves to their stems and fruits. They destroy these valuable crops and cause significant economic and agricultural damage. Farmers worldwide invest substantial amounts, reaching millions, in pesticides and other control measures to combat these agricultural pests.
Wood Boring Beetles are another group of beetles that specifically feed on trees. During winter, adults lay their eggs on the wood of living trees.
The larvae then consume the sapwood and water found beneath the tree's bark before eventually developing into adults. Some can also burrow into the heartwood of the tree. They can cause extensive damage and even destroy entire forests if left unchecked.
Female beetles have evolved strategies to ensure their offspring's survival in various environments. One of the most common methods is oviposition, which involves carefully selecting suitable sites for egg deposition.
Some beetles lay their eggs directly on the plant hosts, providing the newly hatched larvae with an immediate food source. Others, such as the Dung Beetle, bury their eggs in nutrient-rich materials like feces, which serve as protection and sustenance. Remarkably, Silphids or Carrion Beetles use the dead bodies of animals as their nesting site.
Another fascinating beetle fact is that beetle larvae exhibit various appearances during the larval stage, varying by species. They generally feature elongated bodies with noticeable head capsules. The shape of their bodies can range from cylindrical to curved or flattened. Unlike adult beetles, beetle larvae lack wings and the hardened outer coverings known as elytra.
Beetle larvae go through multiple stages of growth known as instars. After hatching, they begin feeding and growing. As they grow, beetle larvae periodically shed their exoskeleton in molting.
Despite their astounding diversity and success in the animal kingdom, beetles often lead surprisingly short lives. The lifespan of a beetle can vary greatly depending on the species, environmental factors, and other influences. However, many beetles live for just around ten days to two months. When captive, they can last for six6 months.
Furthermore, wood-boring beetles and root feeders typically exhibit longer life cycles than their leaf-feeding counterparts.
Mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae) are native bark beetles common in Colorado, United States. These beetles significantly impact the state's forests by burrowing through their host pine trees.
An adult mountain pine beetle typically infests mature or weakened pines, seeking out suitable hosts by detecting the release of volatile chemicals known as pheromones. Once they find a suitable pine tree, the female beetle initiates the attack by boring through the bark and into the phloem layer, where the beetles mate and lay eggs.
Beetles kill most trees in one generation. However, large sugar pines are attacked in stages by multiple beetle generations. These deadly beetles, furthermore, carry blue-staining fungi that interrupt pitch and water flow, causing tree death. These beetle species target weak trees but can also cause widespread mortality.
Ground Beetles, specifically Bombardier Beetles, possess a distinct way of defending themselves. When threatened, they release a pungent and bothersome chemical called benzoquinone that can irritate their predators and foes2.
While this defensive agent is common among insects, the Bombardier Beetles can heat the liquid to intense temperatures and expel it in a pulsating stream.
Blister Beetles produce an acrimonious substance known as cantharidin, which holds medical applications as a topical skin irritant for wart removal.
Additionally, it has historically been a prominent ingredient in purported love potions. Moreover, cantharidin has been used as an aphrodisiac and colloquially referred to as a Spanish fly.
Next on our beetle facts list: Aquatic beetles, such as water beetles, have evolved streamlined shapes and specialized appendages for swimming and diving. They belong to families like Dytiscidae (predaceous diving beetles) and Hydrophilidae (water scavenger beetles).
Aquatic beetles exhibit diverse feeding strategies, with predaceous diving beetles hunting tiny aquatic organisms and water scavenger beetles feeding on decaying matter in water.
In ancient Egypt, the scarab beetle was symbolic and associated with regeneration ideas and life cycles. It was closely linked to the sun god Ra and represented his continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Scarab-shaped amulets and jewelry were commonly buried with the deceased to ensure protection in the afterlife.
Did you know that the Cicindela hudsoni, also known as the Australian Tiger Beetle, has been recorded as the fastest insect in the world? Despite its small size, it can run at an average speed of 5.5 mph (9 km/h), equivalent to a relative rate of 171 body lengths per second.
Interestingly, Tiger Beetles use a distinct chasing pattern known as "stop-and-go." They pause in the middle of their pursuit. The reason for this behavior is their poor eyesight. They cannot gather enough photons to form a clear image of their prey if they move too quickly. Therefore, they must stop, look around, and continue their chase.
Did you know that beetles are crucial to nature's ecosystem as the cleanup crew? Carrion Beetles and Dung Beetles are particularly notable as they consume dead plants, leaves, and animal remains, breaking them down into smaller pieces. Their mission is to prepare the organic matter for other decomposers like bacteria and fungi.
By feasting on decaying matter, these beetles recycle nutrients into the soil, promoting soil fertility and the growth of new life. The nutrients they release, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, are vital for sustaining plant life.
Furthermore, beetles maintain ecosystem health and help control diseases and pests by efficiently removing rotting matter and preventing accumulation. Some beetles, like saprophagous ones, have even partnered with specialized gut bacteria, showcasing the remarkable adaptations of beetles as nature's cleanup crew.
Recently, several beetle species have faced increasing threats to survival, with human activities and environmental changes playing a significant role in their endangerment.
One notable example is the American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus), listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Habitat loss, mainly due to the conversion of prairies and forests into agricultural lands and urban development, has significantly impacted this species. The American Burying Beetle relies on specific habitats with abundant carrion for reproduction, making it particularly vulnerable to environmental disruptions.
The Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus) is another species facing threats in various parts of its range. It is a large and iconic beetle species, but habitat destruction, fragmentation, and loss of decaying wood have affected its population across Europe. As a result, the Stag Beetle has become a protected and declining species in several countries.
Beetle conservation efforts must focus on habitat protection and restoration, implementing sustainable land-use practices, reducing harmful pesticides, and raising awareness about the importance of these insects in maintaining healthy ecosystems.
What are your favorite beetle facts? Remember to share it with your friends!
Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with B.
Hunt, T., Bergsten, J., Levkanicova, Z., Papadopoulou, A., John, O. S., Wild, R., ... & Vogler, A. P. (2007). A comprehensive phylogeny of beetles reveals the evolutionary origins of superradiation. Science, 318(5858), 1913-1916.
Eisner, T., Aneshansley, D. J., Eisner, M. D., Attygalle, A. B., Alsop, D., & Meinwald, J. (2000). Spray mechanism of the most primitive bombardier beetle (Metrius contractus). The Journal of Experimental Biology, 203(8), 1265–1275.
Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.
Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.
Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.