Yes, we are here!

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we have been educating folks about the benefits of self-reliance for 50 years. That includes researching and sourcing the best books and products to help individuals master the skills they need in times like these and beyond. Our online store is open and we are here to answer any questions you might have. Our customer service staff is available Monday through Friday from 8a.m.-5p.m. CDT. We can be reached at 1-800-234-3368 or by email. Stay safe!

What Is a Beetle?

What makes a beetle a beetle? Here are some distinguishing characteristics that make these “little biters” different from other insects.

| February 2015

  • Study Beetles
    The study of a superdiverse group of organisms such as beetles requires the close examination of a wide range of anatomical structures in order to recognize and classify species and larger groups correctly.
    Photo by Anthony Davies, © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada
  • Study of Beetles
    Using clear and consistent terms for beetles' body structures is essential to clearly communicate results amongst those who are specialists and non-specialists.
    Photo by Anthony Davies, © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada
  • Rove Beetle
    The abdomen of beetles, which contains organs such as the reproductive structures, is protected in the majority of species by the exoskeleton and the elytra.
    Photo by Kenji Kohiyama
  • Book of Beetles
    “The Book of Beetles,” edited by Patrice Bouchard, celebrates the beauty and diversity of this marvelous group of insects, covering 600 significant beetle species.
    Cover courtesy The University of Chicago Press

  • Study Beetles
  • Study of Beetles
  • Rove Beetle
  • Book of Beetles

Humans may think they rule the world, but it’s beetles that really dominate it. In The Book of Beetles, editor Patrice Bouchard goes in-depth about these creatures that make up a quarter of the world’s animals. With 400,000 known species, these insects are about as abundant as they are interesting. This excerpt, which discusses defining characteristics of beetles, is from the section “What is a Beetle?”

The English word “beetle” comes from the Middle English bityl or betyll and the Old English bitula, all of which mean “little biter.” Other commonly used names, such as “weevil” and “chafer” derived from Old English and Old High German, also relate to biting. Coleoptera, first coined by Aristotle in the fourth century bce and later adopted as an order of insects by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, is derived from the Greek words koleos, meaning “sheath,” and pteron, or “winged,” and was inspired by the tough elytra of beetles.

Distinguishing Features of Beetles

Among other adaptations, beetles are distinguished from other insects by their chewing mouthparts, the conversion of their forewings into hardened elytra, their hind wings that fold lengthwise and across beneath the elytra, and their holometabolous development. Holometabolous insects pass through four very distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The larvae and adults frequently differ in habits and habitat, functioning in the environment as if they were two separate species.

Beetles, like other insects, crustaceans, arachnids, millipedes, centipedes, and their kin with segmented exoskeletons and jointed appendages (antennae, mouthparts, legs), are classified in the phylum Arthropoda. Light and durable, the beetle exoskeleton is incredibly tough and rigid or characteristically soft and pliable, and provides protection and support. It serves as a platform for important tactile and chemosensory structures externally, while providing an internal framework that supports muscles and organs. The exoskeletal surface is smooth and shiny, or dulled by waxy secretions or microscopic networks of cracks (alutaceous) resembling that of human skin. The surface is variously festooned with spines, hairlike setae, or flattened setae called scales, and sculpted with tiny bumps (tubercles), pit-like punctures, ridges, grooves (striae), or rows of punctures.

Colors of Beetles

The colors of beetles are derived either from chemical pigments obtained from their food or structural properties of the outer layers of the exoskeleton. Most beetles are black as a result of melanin deposition during sclerotization, the chemical hardening process of the exoskeleton that occurs after emergence from the pupa, or eclosion. Microscopic surface sculpturing also influences beetle colors, as do patterns of setae, scales, or waxy secretions. Black desert darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae) are sometimes partially or completely covered with a white, yellow, or bluish-gray waxy bloom that reflects light and helps to keep the beetle cool.

The brilliant iridescent and metallic colors of beetles are created by multiple reflective layers in the exoskelton and scales, or a layer of highly complex photonic crystals that reflect light at different wavelengths to create specific metallic colors and shimmering iridescence. These structures are determined genetically, but their final form in individual beetles is determined by conditions experienced during growth and development.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me