Since September is Biodiversity Month, we’ll be offering a lot of biodiversity-themed posts, and the first has to be beetles.
Why is that, I hear you ask? Well, it’s because insects have more species than any other class, and there are more species of beetles than in any other order within that class. Roughly 900,000 species of insects are known, and it’s estimated that the total number of living species is somewhere between 2 million and 30 million, meaning that insects comprise about 80% of the world’s species. Beetles, for their part, with roughly 400,000 known species, form about 30% of all known animal life forms, and 40% of insect species.
That means that beetles have been enormously successful, evolutionarily speaking. Beetles have survived and diversified into an enormous variety of niches, wherever plant material (of any kind, including dead or dying) is found.
And as you can see, the diversity of beetles includes an incredible variety of beauty, including the Queensland jewel beetle (temognatha alternata), the hibiscus harlequin beetle (tectocoris diophthalmus), the rainbow stag beetle (phallacrognathus muelleri), and the rhinoceros beetle (xylotrupes ulysses) – all of which are found in Australia.
World beetle diversity contains two contestants for largest beetle species: the Titan beetle (titanus giganteus) and the Hercules beetle (dynastes hercules). While the Titan beetle can grow up to 6.5 in/16.7 cm, Hercules beetles can grow to up to 7 in/17.5 cm. The contest comes about due to a question of whether or not the horns are included in measurement of size: when the horns are excluded, the Titan beetle is the definite winner.
It’s also considerably more worth watching for: although it looks nowhere near as dramatic, it does possess sharp, curved mandibles that can snap a pencil in half and cut through human flesh.
So this Biodiversity Month, spare a thought for all the multiplicity of beetles busily beetling away out of sight, because they’re a vital part of every ecosystem.
[Featured image: Jewel beetle, Cooktown. Image by John Hill, licensed under GNU FDL]