Beetle-mania!

The evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane is often quoted as saying “the Creator has an inordinate fondness for beetles”  in response to the question from theologians whether anything could be inferred of the Creator from his creations.  One of the reasons for Haldane’s answer is that there are more species of beetles than any other group of animals on Earth.

Scydosella musawasensis and Hercules beetles.Scydosella musawasensis (photo: Alexey Polilov) and Hercules beetles.

The Order Coleoptera, or the beetles, comprises 160 families worldwide and over 350,000 species. They are as diverse in looks and habits as one could imagine.  Beetles can range in size from micro Scydosella musawasensis (0.3 mm) to the impressively large Hercules Beetle (Dynastes hercules) that can reach 6.6 inches with its horn.  Goliath beetles (Goliathus goliatus) win on weight, weighing almost 4.1 ounces.  That is a quarter pound!  Think about that next time you pick up a hamburger!

Goliath beetleGoliath beetle (Goliathus goliatus).

 
Beetles have been watched and revered for millennia.  In ancient Egyptian culture, scarab beetles were a symbol of rebirth, as the adult beetles would “newly” emerge from the sands after developing on their dung ball underground.  The Egyptian god Khepri (a form of the god Ra) is represented as a giant scarab that rolled the Sun across the sky.  The idea probably came about by watching a dung beetle rolling its offspring’s dinner across the landscape.

Egyptian god Khepri (illustration: Jeff Dahl) and two scarab beetles rolling a ball of dung.Egyptian god Khepri (illustration: Jeff Dahl) and two scarab beetles rolling a ball of dung.

They achieved this diversity in form and habit due to having a holometabolous (complete) life cycle. They start as an egg and go through larva, pupa, and then the adult stage.  They are everything from herbivore to predator and scavenger.  If you want to be truly impressed by life on Earth, come visit the beetles and see why entomology is so much fun!