beetles: the insect -- 8/08/18

Today's selection -- from The Book of Beetles edited by Patrice Bouchard. There are 400,000 species of beetles:

"Beetles of the order Coleoptera, with nearly 400,000 described species, comprise one of the most diverse and important groups of animals on Earth. As such, coleopterists, biologists who specialize in the study of beetles, have a view of the natural world with a degree of resolution that is seldom seen through the study of other organisms.

"One out of every five species of plants and animals is a beetle. Despite their riot of forms, colors, patterns, and behaviors, all beetles share a select suite of physical attributes, the most conspicuous of which are the leathery or hardened forewings, or elytra (singular elytron). Depending on the species, elytra can help stabilize beetles in flight, protect their delicate hind wings and internal organs, conserve precious bodily fluids, capture bubbles of air underwater, and insulate them from extreme temperatures. Combined with their small and compact bodies and numerous other morphological and behavioral adaptations, beetles exploit and thrive in niches unoccupied or underutilized by other animals in widely diverse terrestrial and freshwater habitats.

Coleoptera at the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Karlsruhe, Germany

"Although the sheer number of species prevents all but the most common or economically important beetles from having a meaningful and widely accepted common name, each known species does have a scientific name consisting of a genus (plural genera) and species (singular and plural) epithet that is universally recognized. To manage information effectively, coleopterists file each species into a nested system of hierarchical groups, or taxa (singular taxon), based on their shared evolutionary characteristics. Species is the most exclusive taxon, while the order Coleoptera is the most inclusive of beetle taxa.

"Beetles communicate with one another through physical, chemical, or visual means, usually to locate a mate. Although most species engage in sexual reproduction, a few reproduce asexually by cloning themselves, a process known as parthenogenesis. Among beetles, limited parental care of the young is the exception, not the rule. The larvae and adults eat a variety of organisms, living and dead, especially plants. Those that prefer leaves, flowers, fruits, needles, cones, and roots can inflict serious damage to food stores, gardens, crops, and managed timber. Some predatory beetles are used as biological control agents against agricultural or forestry pests, while scavenger species provide an essential service to clean study skeletons in natural-history collections around the globe."



Patrice Bouchard


The Book of Beetles: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred of Nature's Gems


University of Chicago Press


Copyright 2014 by Ivy Press Limited


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