40 Interesting Facts About Hercules Beetles (Genus Dynastes)

Updated on October 2, 2018
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.

A male Hercules beetle in a museum
A male Hercules beetle in a museum | Source

Impressive Insects

Hercules beetles are large and impressive insects. They are known for the long horns of the male, which act as pincers, and their ability to change colour. The insects are named after Hercules, the hero of Ancient Greek and Roman mythology who was famous for his tremendous strength. The beetles are often attractive animals and have some interesting features and behaviour.

This article describes forty facts about the Hercules beetle of tropical parts of the world and the western and eastern Hercules beetles of the United States. The three insects belong to the genus Dynastes and the family Scarabaeidae. The members of the family are often called scarab beetles.

The Hercules beetle has the scientific name Dynastes hercules. The insect is found in Central and South America and the West Indies. It belongs to the family Scarabaeidae and the subfamily Dynastinae. The members of this subfamily are known as rhinoceros beetles.

External Anatomy of the Hercules Beetle

1. As in other insects, the body of a beetle is divided into three sections: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. Also as in other insects, a beetle has three pairs of legs, which are attached to the thorax.

2. Beetles have two pairs of wings. Like the legs, they are attached to the thorax, but when they're folded they extend over the abdomen. The forewings are known as the elytra. They are hardened and serve to protect the delicate hindwings, which are hidden underneath and are used for flight. The elytra are moved out of the way when a beetle takes to the air.

3. The male Hercules beetle is black in colour, sometimes with the exception of the elytra. In a dry atmosphere, the elytra are yellow to olive green and are decorated with dark spots and fine streaks. When the atmosphere is humid, the elytra become completely black.

4. Females may be entirely black in a dry atmosphere but sometimes have elytra that are partially coloured. The colour possibilities are the same as those found in the males. As in the male, the colour fades in a humid environment. Females sometimes have a weaker ability to change colour than males, however.

5. The male has two extensions at the front of his head, which are known as horns. The length of the horns varies, but the upper one is generally much longer than the lower one.

6. Beetles have compound eyes and chewing mouth parts. The eyes of a Hercules beetle are located on the sides of the head below the lower horn (if it's present).

The cuticle is the outer covering of an insect's body. Researchers say that the colour of a dry Hercules beetle depends on the structure of the cuticle in the elytra. When the cuticle contains water, its structure changes in a vital way and its ability to create colour disappears.

Facts About the Horns

7. The upper horn of the beetle is called the thoracic horn, since it begins at the thorax, and the lower one the cephalic horn because it begins at the head. ("Cephalic" means of or relating to the head.)

8. Adults Hercules beetles are around two to three inches in length, not including the horn. The male may be as long as seven inches if his thoracic horn is included in the measurement. The insect is listed as the longest insect in the world with respect to total length by Guinness World Records. The titan beetle of South America has the longest body length, however.

9. The length of the horns depends on a variety of factors, including genetics, nutrition, and environment. The thoracic horn is usually considerably longer than the cephalic one.

10. The males use their horns for fighting with each other prior to mating with a female. The winner gains the right to mate.

11. The conflicts are sometimes only indirectly related to mating. The male maintains a territory during the mating season and fights to protect it from other males.

12. A male tries to grasp his adversary between his horns so that he can lift him into the air and then throw him to the ground. The fight continues until one of the beetles is injured, retreats, or is left upside down and helpless.

A female Hercules beetle in Costa Rica
A female Hercules beetle in Costa Rica | Source

Habitat, Diet, and Behaviour

13. The Hercules beetle inhabits lowland and mountain rainforests.

14. The larvae live in wood from fallen trees. They feed on rotting wood and other decaying plant material.

15. The adult beetles are generally nocturnal or crepuscular (active at twilight). They can fly, but they usually stay on the ground, where they forage for food.

16. During the day, the adults hide in leaf litter. At night, they feed on fruits that have fallen to the ground.

17. The beetles are solitary animals except when a male and female meet to mate or when one male meets and confronts another one.

18. Observers say that the beetle creates a huffing sound by rapidly vibrating its abdomen against its elytra. This sound may act as a warning to predators.

Life Cycle

19. The beetle exhibits complete metamorphosis. The developing insect goes through four stages, each of which looks different from the one before. The first stage is the egg. This is followed by the larvae, or grubs, and then the pupa. The pupa becomes an adult.

20. Many details of the beetle's reproduction have been discovered by observing captive animals. The insects are sometimes kept as pets. The reported time for each stage varies considerably and may depend on environmental conditions, such as temperature

21. The female lays up to a hundred eggs either in the ground or inside wood lying on the ground. She leaves the eggs unattended.

22. The eggs hatch in around twenty-eight to thirty days. Three larval stages, or instars, follow. The beetle remains in a larval stage for twelve to eighteen months.

23. The last larval stage eventually becomes a pupa. In this stage, the developing insect is covered by a hard case made of soil and its own feces.

24. After one to three months, an adult beetle emerges from the pupal case. The adult may live for three to twelve months longer. The reported time period is highly variable. The total lifespan of the insect is often said to be somewhere between two and three years.

A close-up view of the front end of an eastern Hercules beetle
A close-up view of the front end of an eastern Hercules beetle | Source

The compound eye of the beetle above can be seen behind the lower horn. The appendage attached to the mouthparts is called a palp. The palps of a beetle help to manipulate food.

Eastern Hercules Beetles

25. The United States contains two species of Hercules beetles that are related to the tropical species. They share features with Dynastes hercules, but in some cases these features are slightly different from their form in the tropical beetle.

26. The scientific name of the eastern Hercules beetle is Dynastes tityus. It lives in the eastern part of the United States. Texas is the western limit of its distribution.

27. The beetle is two to three inches long including the male's horns. The horns are shorter than those of Dynastes hercules. The upper horn is referred to as the pronotal one and the lower one as the clypeal one. The pronotum is the plate covering the thorax. The clypeum is the lowest plate on the "face" of an insect.

28. The two horns are approximately the same size. The tip of the pronotal horn has a short bifurcation, which helps in identifying the species.

29. The male has a smaller horn on either side of his pronotal one, as shown in the photo above.

30. The pronutum and the elytra are yellow, tan, green, or grey and are mottled with black spots.

31. The surface of the beetle become entirely black in high humidity.

32. The beetles feed on fallen fruit. They have also been observed feeding on the sap from ash trees. They aren't considered to be a pest, however.

Because of their large size and impressive horns, many people believe that Hercules beetles are dangerous. In fact, their horns are not dangerous at all, and the beetles are not known to bite. However, if you pick one up, it may scratch you with its strong, spiny legs.

— University of Kentucky
A male and female western Hercules beetle
A male and female western Hercules beetle | Source

The American Hercules beetles reproduce by complete metamorphosis. This involves the same stages as the process in their tropical relative. The eggs, larvae, and pupa of the beetles develop in the soil.

The Western Hercules Beetle

33. The western Hercules beetle has the scientific name Dynastes grantii. The species name is sometimes written as granti, but according to entomologists this spelling is incorrect.

34. The beetle is found in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and northern Mexico.

35. Like its eastern relative, it's two to three inches in length.

36. Its pronotum and elytra are always grey-green in colour in a dry environment. The elytra are mottled with dark spots. The body becomes black in a humid environment.

37. The male's horns are noticeably longer than those of the eastern Hercules beetle. In addition, the pronatal horn is considerably longer than the clyneal one.

38. Unlike that of the eastern Hercules beetle, the pronatal horn doesn't have a bifurcation at the tip.

39. The insect feeds on the sap of ash trees.

40. Hybrids between the eastern and western Hercules beetles have been produced in the laboratory. Some researchers feel that the animals should be classified as members of the same species and that their differences are relatively minor geographical variations.

The two beetles shown in the video below have just come out of a humid box and are still dark in colour, particularly the female.

An Interesting Genus of Beetles

It's still uncertain why the different types of Hercules beetles change colour. Since the nights are typically more humid where the beetles live, the beetles change to a black colour at that time. One idea that has been proposed is that this darkening may be useful by providing camouflage. Another idea is that the black colour enables the beetles to absorb more heat during the cooler nights. Perhaps the change to a lighter colour is helpful during the brighter and often warmer day. Like some others characteristics of the animal, the ability to change colour is intriguing. Dynastes is an interesting genus of beetles.

References

Hercules beetle information from the University of Florida

Facts about Dynastes hercules from the University of the West Indies

Beetle records from Guinness World Records

Information about Hercules beetles from the University of Kentucky

Eastern Hercules beetle facts from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Dynastes grantii entry from BugGuide

Dynastes grantii information from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Questions & Answers

  • Are the Eastern and Western Hercules beetles rare? Are they only native to North & South America?

    The Eastern and Western Hercules beetles are native to the United States. The western species is also found in northern Mexico. From what I've read, the eastern beetle is not considered to be rare, but it's not an abundant insect. The western beetle is said to be relatively common in Arizona, but not elsewhere in the United States.

  • What was the biggest beetle ever recorded?

    According to Guinness World Records, the longest beetle in the world is the titan beetle (Titanus giganteus) of South America. The body of this insect can be as long as six inches. The heaviest beetle is the larva of the Goliath beetle of Africa, which can weigh up to three-and-a-half ounces.

© 2018 Linda Crampton

Comments

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    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Amna. I hope your project goes well.

    • profile image

      Amna farooq 

      2 months ago

      I was here to get some information about Hercules Beetles school project. I thought of getting tit bits from every website but it looks like you your information was exactly what i wanted .Thank you @lindacrampton for the information. I am so grateful to you:)

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much. I hope your project goes well.

    • profile image

      MJ H. 

      7 months ago

      you're awesome, Linda! Im on here for my school project and its really helpful! thanks!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the comment, Zia. I think the beetle is an interesting and attractive insect.

    • aziza786 profile image

      Zia Uddin 

      7 months ago from UK

      Never heard of this Hercules beetle of the Scarabaeidae family from South America and W. Indies until I saw this. It's exactly like the ancient Egyptian scarab. I wouldn't mind picking one up and get scratched by its hind legs. I like the idea of keeping one as a pet as you've mentioned above but I guess it wont survive in the UK, it's a tropical beetle.

      Very interesting to learn about this Scarab, thanks for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for such a kind comment, Penny.

    • Penny Sebring profile image

      Penny Leigh Sebring 

      9 months ago from Fort Collins

      Wow! I didn't realize that their period as a larva was so long! Absolutely fantastic article.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing your experience, Chitrangada.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      9 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Excellent information about Hercules beetles. I have seen them many times. Good to know so many interesting facts about them.

      As always, a well researched and illustrated article! Thanks for sharing!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit, Larry. I appreciate your comment.

    • Larry Fish profile image

      Larry W Fish 

      9 months ago from Raleigh

      Thanks for sharing this article, Linda. I always love an article that gives facts about something and you have done it well here. I have seen these beetles on a couple of occasions. Now I am much more educated. Thanks!!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Liz.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 months ago from UK

      This is a well-illustrated article presented in an easily-assimilated style.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Heidi. The insects are certainly impressive. I hope you have a great Sunday and a great week.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for reading the article and commenting, Nithya.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Manatita. Yes, it is good that they're not dangerous to humans. The horns make the insect look fierce.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      9 months ago from Dubai

      Great article with many facts about this unique Hercules Beetles, always enjoy reading your articles. Learned a lot about this beetle, thank you for sharing.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      9 months ago from Chicago Area

      Wow, I hope I don't see these monstrous guys in my yard. Probably not here in the Midwest. But, again, another impressive member of the animal kingdom we know because of you. Happy Sunday!

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      9 months ago from london

      Pretty amazing facts about the hercules beetle. I like to see how they approach to fight. Not dangerous to humans, I see. Great!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Dora. Yes, the research is impressive. It's interesting to learn about the insects.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      9 months ago from The Caribbean

      Impressed that the scientist can detail so many aspects of these small creatures. Interesting!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment and the idea, Bede. The colour change is interesting. The possible reasons that I've included are just suggestions from researchers. It would be interesting to learn more about the situation.

    • Bede le Venerable profile image

      Bede 

      9 months ago from Minnesota

      Your insect articles are interesting, Linda. Actually, they’re all interesting. It’s curious why these beetles turn black in humid weather. Perhaps when it gets humid, they seek shelter in dark places, such as between rocks and suchlike, where it’s nice ‘n cool.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Eman. I appreciate your visit, as always.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Devika. I agree—beetles are fascinating!

    • Emmy ali profile image

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      9 months ago from Egypt

      A very informative article, so much information about Hercules beetles. Thanks, Linda for this interesting article.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      9 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beetles are fascinating and to know what is going on in their world is sad.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the interesting comment, Mary. I feel sorry for the beetles, but watching their behaviour must have been interesting for the children.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Nell. I think the pupa looks very interesting. I think the insect looks beautiful, too, though I doubt whether many people would agree with us!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Bill. Yes, their size is impressive. They would certainly be hard to miss if they were in the open!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      9 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have watched kids play their beetles. They keep one in a match box and when the teachers are not paying attention, their boxes come out and the fights begin.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      9 months ago from England

      Wow! now that totally fascinated me! the Pupae film was amazing. I actually think the Hercules beetle is beautiful. Really interesting and amazing videos too!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      9 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Linda. What an interesting insect. Can’t say I’ve ever come across a Hercules beetle. Their size alone would be enough to scare the heck out of anyone who does not like insects. Thanks for the education.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love the thought of the beetle being so ugly that it's beautiful! I appreciate your visit and comment, Jackie.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Bill. I think it would be interesting to keep one of the beetles as a pet and handle it often, though it would be nice if the insect lived longer. I know it doesn't look like the ideal animal to hold in the hand, though!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Pamela. I know some people don't like insects, but I think they're interesting animals. I enjoy observing them, though I try not to get too close to the harmful ones. Thank you for the comment.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Flourish. Yes, sometimes the beetle does die. The insect's fate probably depends on whether it's injured as well as upside down. Thanks for the visit.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      9 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Quite interesting, Linda. This is one of those insect that is so ugly it is beautiful, especially the rhinoceros looking ones. Hard to stop looking at!

      Thanks for the great info.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Fascinating creatures although I doubt I would want to hold one in my hand. :) Interesting as always, Linda!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Linda, I am glad they are not found here even though they are harmless. I just don't like bugs very much.

      However, this is an interesting study, and your article was very well written. I like learning about them.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      9 months ago from USA

      The horns or pincers are impressive as is their color changing ability. When the males fight and one is left upside down is he left there to perish?

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