The Jaws Of A Big Beetle
The Great Beetle Family
Every June, one of their kind invades my Tampa, Florida area home and the battle begins. While the cat may love playing with them, I'm not impressed, nor am I fond of them. We use the word beetle contemptuously, but Mother Nature is fond of these creatures. They are among her most successful creations. Perhaps that's why their multiplicity and their infinite variety of size, pattern, gifts and functions.
In species they outnumber all of the back-boned animals by two or three to one. In the mass of individuals on this plant, they are as the sands of the sea.
I should not be considered unjust to a beetle to say that brain-power is not its strongest point, though instinct in the order brings wondrous things to pass. It is rather in what they have inherited to fit them for life that the beetles are chiefly distinguished.
They can move their powerful heads more freely than other tiny insects. Their external covering is extremely hard as a defense against attack. They can eat so many things that they are at home practically everywhere on the planet.
They are, indeed,one of the most notable of all our groups of natural scavengers -- creatures of which we have to take account in balancing the books of human life. We may employ the name of beetle as a term of scorn, but we do not despise powerful enemies, and such we find among the beetles, as well as a host of good and harmless allies.
The Power Of Beetle Jaws
As a child, I once read of how the noble oak roof of Westminster Hall, which, after defying the tooth of time for over eight centuries, fell piecemeal to the jaws of the lowly beetle.
That leads me to thinking about another beetle, that left unchecked nearly drove potatoes from the list of human foods. In light of just those two events, it strikes me that beetles are pretty powerful for such a small beings.
A Little Beetle Anatomy
Beetles are four-winged, but their fondness for protective armor has slowly converted the front pair of their wings into horny coverings for the hind pair.
The front pair of wings, or wing-shields, meeting as a rule in the straight line down the back, and guarding, not only the true organs of flight, but the soft after-parts of the body, are called elytra. Very similar to the nature of earwigs.
Not all beetles have this. Some, indeed, are flightless. Generally this is so in the females, where the distinction occurs, but there are kinds in which both sexes have copied the penguin and given up flight, though the elytra remain to show what once they had.
Giant Horned Beetle
Not only is there great diversity in pattern and proportions in the various species of beetles -- there are also striking differences in size in the same species. As a species are generally supposed to be alike -- How are we to account for these many differences?
The explanation is that the big beetles have prospered in the larval stage more than the small ones. For food supply and fair conditions govern the growth of beetles, just like in other species and their babies.
In a larger classification which includes the whole order, we find the smallest beetles less than a pin's head in size, and the monsters of the tribes, like the Elephant Beetle and the Goliath Beetles, nearly as big as a man's fist, and one species of a South American giant beetle six inches long and nearly as broad.
Sometimes it's hard to know what kind of insect we have when we encounter one that we've never seen before. So, how do you know, if what you are looking at is really a beetle?
As a rule, the head is, more broad than long, and sometimes, as in the weevils, shows that Nature has employed here, perhaps for the first time, the idea of the long proboscis, or trunk, which we find higher in the scale, in the shrews and tapirs, and very markedly in the elephant.
If that sounds confusing, take a closer look at the beetle's head.
The Wireless Receivers Of The Beetle Kingdom
The head is furnished with two large eyes, and sometimes with smaller auxiliary eyes, called ocelli.The lenses may be plain, but more frequently the eye is composed of many facets. Sometimes it is divided, for what purpose is not plain in all cases. For example, in the Whirling Water Beetles, this division is complete, so that the two eyes are these creatures are, in effect, four.
The antennae, or feelers, are attached to the head. I could write a hub on these organs alone. They are of many shapes and designs, though nearly always, in all species, composed of eleven-jointed segments, which give extreme flexibility.
They are organs of touch, but more than that. It is thought that smell and hearing also are in these feelers. But do beetles hear? The answer is -- They may catch air vibrations and little shocks communicated through solid bodies, and feel, as we believe fish do, rather than hear as we humans think of hearing.
The antennae of wireless receiving devices pick up electric impulses born of sound, as they travel, and give them to us translated into sound waves, such as in telephones. So that would make you wonder, if the antennae of insects are their wireless receivers, and that they have some organ which translates sound impulses to them?
There are beetles which create sound by scraping one part of the body against another. Sometimes it is the legs against the edges of the wing-cases, sometimes it is the rubbing of one part of the body against another, which has a specially rough, file-like surface. Surely, it may be thought, with such elaborate preparations as these for making sound, that there must be a sense of hearing in the insect.
Even Closer Look At Beetle Antennae
Wireless picks up everything which can be heard by an ear of sorts -- and more. It receives electric disturbances from the atmosphere which no human ear could perceive. The fiddling and scraping by the beetles may be conveyed to the senses of their fellow beings by Mother Nature's own wireless.
Whatever the method, scientists recognize the antennae as the receivers, for beetles have no ears. Some of these wonderful antennae taper away to a bristle-like extremity. Some have thread-like ends, though uniform throughout in thickness. Others have rounded joints, like a strung strand of pearls. Still other have long processes arising from each joint, feelers thickened gradually toward the ends, like those of butterflies. Finally, as in the case of cockchafers, there are beetles which have elaborate fan-like structures of antennas.
If all other clues to identity fail, those details found on an eleven jointed antenna, will guide us with certainty to the fact that we are in the presence of a genuine beetle.
The term used in zoological classification for the true beetles is Coleoptera. The name comes from two Greek words for "a sheath" and "wings."
It was first used by Aristotle, when he observed the firm protective sheaths serving as coverings for the hind wings, which alone are used for flight, without recognizing that they corresponded to the fore wings of other insects. Aristotle's term was adapted by the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus, and has been universally adopted ever since then by zoologists.
Friend Or Foe?
If we've determined our bug is a beetle, is it friend or foe?
There are good and bad in all orders, as we judge them, though not as Mother Nature does. Beetles live by eating, and their meal may be some horrid grub gnawing the roots of growths precious to our gardens, or it may be something else that we prize highly. For beetles are found everywhere on earth.
One of them, is the lovely Tiger Beetles, of which some thousand and more species are known. They are clearly on the side of man, in that they live by eating our enemies. Their diet suits them, too, for though they are good fliers, they show immense activity on foot, and turn their nasty food into the loveliest tinted mail whose fine metallic hues the humming-birds could not outshine.
They abound on sunny paths and sandy shores of rivers, ponds, and the ocean, flying and running swiftly. They are very difficult to capture.
All of the species living in the United States are ground beetles, but in the tropics, this same beetle lives on trees.
At the first peep we meet once more the old mystery of coloration.
The beetles are, generally speaking, a secretive folk. We do not perceive their million and billions because they do not thrust themselves on the waking world. Hosts of them show themselves by night. Yet, they are hiding in the soil, in moss, under the bark of trees, and beneath stones.
Now, I've unearthed beetles in my garden of rich cooper and lustrous green, deep down in the soil. What purpose can that beauty serve down in the darkness of the earth where the rich coloring cannot be seen?
We have tiger beetles that are the farmer's and gardener's friends. Side-by-side, with them, are other beetles doing good work for us. So it makes you wonder, how shall we tell wheter these other little flesh-eaters are tiger beetles or not?
They are ground beetles, too, and we cannot be in doubt if we remember that the carnivorous ground beetles are always comparatively dull in color, metallic or black -- while the tiger beetles never, and that the tigers have a flexible hood to the inner lobe of the maxillae, which is lacking in other.
Tiger Beetle Safari
Do You Know?
There are more beetles than any other creature in the world.
If You'd Like To Know More!
- Hercules beetle
Hercules beetle - Dynastes hercules hercules
- Hercules Beetles of Kentucky - University of Kentucky Entomology
- Tiger Beetles
- Tiger Beetles of the United States
Distribution information for tiger beetle species that occur in the conterminous U.S.