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6 Surprisingly Beautiful Beetles
There is an old quote, attributed to J. B. S. Haldane, that begins with the famed geneticist being asked what science had taught him about the mind of God. “I’ve deduced,” he replied, “that God is incredibly fond of beetles.“ Anyone who has studied insects, or even worked outside in their lawn or garden, will know what he's talking about – there are more beetles (family Coleoptera) than any other animal on the planet! The vast majority are small, even tiny, plain colored, and lead lives well hidden from the view of most people.
This article features some of the exceptions to the "plain brown beetle" rule. For a number of evolutionary reasons, these beetles have developed bright, often metallic colors. Their lovely appearance is not intended to charm or fascinate humans, of course – these beetles have looked like this for millions of years, long before humans showed up – but we can still appreciate both their beauty and the variety of forms that Nature has created over eons of evolution!
Flower beetles, also sometimes called flower chafers due to the damage they inflict on flowers and leaves, belong to a very large group of insects that occurs around the world. One very familiar member of this group is the Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica, which is destructive to roses and other plants; despite its status as an invasive species, it is nonetheless very beautiful, with iridescent green and copper highlights.
The flower beetle pictured above is typical of the more attractive members of this group. They are robust, broad-shouldered beetles, very strong, and often ornamented with metallic hues that reflect sunlight.
Many of the 4,000 or so species of flower beetle are still undescribed – in other words, they have not been officially categorized and named by entomologists (beetle who study insects).
Not all tiger beetles are as beautiful as the one pictured, but many do have purple, gold, and red markings, which are sometimes metallic and reflective. The main thing to know about tiger beetles is that their name is very appropriate: they are aggressive, fast, and will attack other insects without a second thought. Tiger beetles also have large "fangs" (aka mandibles, insect mouth parts) and long legs, and are very quick to fly.
You may notice tiger beetles if you are at a beach or on sandy soil on a sunny summer day. They look and act rather like large flies or wasps. If you approach one, it will let you get within about 4 or 5 feet before suddenly taking flight and landing several yards away. Catching or studying tiger beetles is therefore very challenging!
Imperial Tortoise Beetle
Tortoise beetles make up the family Cassidinae, a group of small beetles known for the "shell" that shields the insect's back from predators. The imperial tortoise beetle is one of the most striking and beautiful beetles in the world, and that is saying something! It is hard to match this species' bright, reflective blues and golds, a kind of adaptation that in some way protects the insect from predators; the beetle's bright colors may be meant to warn hungry birds and lizards that it tastes bad, or may even be toxic.
Tortoise beetles generally owe their bright colors to bodily fluids that are circulated just under the "shell" – for this reason, dead specimens almost never show the beauty that live ones do.
Jewel beetles, also sometimes called splendor beetles, are among the most striking of all insects. Some people who buy dead insects to form a collection based on beauty or rarity are drawn to this group of beetles, and may spend quite a bit of money in pursuit of this "stamp collection" style of collecting (museums and entomologists, on the other hand, value not just the insect but also the data that come along with it: behavior, time and place of capture, food plant, etc).
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This group, whose scientific name is "Buprestidae," live on fallen trees, where their large, flattened larvae burrow through wood and bark. In the tropics, it is not uncommon to see one of these beautiful beetles resting on a tree trunk. They are very good flyers and will buzz away like a large wasp if they feel at all threatened.
Glorious Scarab Beetle
In the right time and place, this unbelievably beautiful beetle comes to lights by the dozens; I have seen swarms of them during the monsoon in southeastern Arizona. The combination of metallic green with gold stripes is a sight not soon forgotten. These beetles are also quite large and strong, and will cling to your clothes or skin with determination.
There are several other beetles in the genus Chrysina, collectively known as "jewel scarabs." Most have metallic gold or silver coloring, and some are entirely metallic, top and bottom. They often occur at high elevations, and are generally only found at certain times in certain places.
Dogbane beetles are quite common throughout the eastern United States. They can be found in overgrown fields and along forest edges wherever dogwood or milkweed grows, and often occur in small groups. Finding a dogwood flower beetle is something of an event, since there is no other beetle in the area that has the same combination of beautiful iridescent greens, blues, and purples. They are easily caught and handled, and can be "posed" in bright sunlight for a photo that captures their beauty.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.