Beetles make up a large portion of the Animal Kingdom; it can be said that each group of animals has its own “beetle.” The class Insecta, which includes all insects, breaks down into orders like Coleoptera (beetles), Lepidoptera (butterflies), Dermaptera (earwigs), Hemiptera (true bugs or aphids), Thysanura (silverfish, cricket, and grasshopper insects), and others.
- Beetles are the most species-rich order in the Animal Kingdom. One beetle can have anywhere between 6,000 and 8 million offspring in one season. There are more than 5,000 different types of beetles worldwide, with about 10 new species found every day.
- The largest known beetles belong to the Hercules Beetle family and come in at 30 cm (12 inches) in length; they weigh over 500 grams (1 lb). These beetles only occur in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Some beetle species can fly using their wings for short distances; these include the Pterostichus brasiliensis or Firefly Beetles of Brazil, which can fly up to four meters (13 feet) when captured. The Hercules beetles, however, cannot fly because their wings aren’t fully developed.
- Although many beetle species worldwide are harmful to pests, some beetles are beneficial to humans. Ladybird Beetles – also known as ladybugs – consume hundreds of aphids and even lay eggs inside aphid colonies. The larvae that emerge from those eggs eat aphids and other insects such as scale insects and whiteflies. Some beetles pollinate flowers, such as bees and butterflies.
- Some beetles are capable of storing toxins within their body. This allows them to ward off predators by giving them a nasty taste. Some species of blister beetles, for example, store cantharidin in their bodies, which helps protect them from ants and other predators. Unfortunately, cantharidin is also an ingredient found in many household products—from lipstick to shampoo to eyedrops—and can be extremely toxic if ingested or irritates the skin.
- The bombardier beetle, which can release boiling hot chemicals at anyone who tries to eat it, is most famous for this type of defense. The chemicals are stored in two separate glands located at the tip of the abdomen. These are called the pygidial glands. The beetle then rubs its abdomen against an object that will alert potential predators that it is covered in chemicals, giving them a nasty taste!
- Beetles can also be helpful to farmers as a form of pest control. Some beetles actually eat the eggs of plant-parasitic mites, which have been known to kill crops. In cultures across Asia and Africa, some people roast the beetles to have a tasty treat and kill off parasites.
- The American rhinoceros beetles—also known as dung beetles—are native to parts of Asia and Africa where humans have not yet penetrated. These beetles play an important role in the dung-based agricultural systems of these regions. They are kept as livestock by the Maasai tribe of Kenya, who use them to help increase soil fertility by feeding cattle dung.
- Male dung beetles roll their food into balls and carry it away to bury it for later eating or attract females. When they find a female, they will go back and forth between food supply and mate locations, leaving scent trails for others to follow. The females will lay their eggs inside the balls made by the males; when the larvae hatch, they will feed on the food buried there, which is rich in nutrients produced through fermentation.
- Entomologists have also found that dung beetles are effective biological control agents in grasslands, forests, and wetlands. They reduce the abundance of the Onychophora (scale insects), Nematocera (plant parasites), Acarina (mites), and arthropods on the plant. Studies indicate that direct benefits of dung beetle services increase crop yields. In contrast, indirect benefits include faunal diversity, recreation value of natural areas, soil aeration, and water filtration, above or below ground. The impacts of their services include enhanced biodiversity of the ecosystem while providing excellent carbon sequestration potential. Dung beetles are also effective at preventing soil erosion through their ability to recycle nutrients within their ecosystem.