Beetle — Beetles are a group of insects which have the largest number of species. They are placed in the order Coleoptera, means “sheathed wing”, and contains more described species than in any other order in the animal kingdom and constitute about twenty-five percent of all known life-forms. Forty percent of all described insect species are beetles (about 350,000 species), and new species are frequently discovered. Estimates put the total number of species, described and undescribed, at between 5 and 8 million.
Beetles can be found in almost all habitats, but are not known to occur in the sea or in the polar regions. They interact with their ecosystems in several ways. They often feed on plants and fungi, break down animal and plant debris, and eat other invertebrates. Some species are prey of various animals including birds and mammals. Certain species are agricultural pests, such as the Colorado potato beetle Leptinotarsa decemlineata, the boll weevil Anthonomus grandis, the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum, and the mungbean or cowpea beetle Callosobruchus maculatus, while other species of beetles are important controls of agricultural pests. For example, coccinellidae (“ladybirds” or “ladybugs”) consume aphids, scale insects, thrips, and other plant-sucking insects that damage crops.
Beetles are endopterygotes with complete metamorphosis.
A single female may lay from several dozen to several thousand eggs during her lifetime. Eggs are usually laid according to the substrate the larva will feed on upon hatching. Among others, they can be laid loose in the substrate (e.g. flour beetle), laid in clumps on leaves (e.g. Colorado potato beetle), or individually attached (e.g. mungbean beetle and other seed borers) or buried in the medium (e.g. carrot weevil).
The larva is usually the principal feeding stage of the beetle life cycle. Larvae tend to feed voraciously once they emerge from their eggs. Some feed externally on plants, such as those of certain leaf beetles, while others feed within their food sources. Examples of internal feeders are most Buprestidae and longhorn beetles. The larvae of many beetle families are predatory like the adults (ground beetles, ladybirds, rove beetles). The larval period varies between species but can be as long as several years.
Beetle larvae can be differentiated from other insect larvae by their hardened, often darkened head, the presence of chewing mouthparts, and spiracles along the sides of the body. Like adult beetles, the larvae are varied in appearance, particularly between beetle families. Beetles whose larvae are somewhat flattened and are highly mobile are the ground beetles, some rove beetles, and others; their larvae are described as campodeiform. Some beetle larvae resemble hardened worms with dark head capsules and minute legs. These are elateriform larvae, and are found in the click beetle (Elateridae) and darkling beetle (Tenebrionidae) families. Some elateriform larvae of click beetles are known as wireworms. Beetles in the families of the Scarabaeoidea have short, thick larvae described as scarabaeiform, but more commonly known as grubs.
All beetle larvae go through several instars, which are the developmental stages between each moult. In many species the larvae simply increase in size with each successive instar as more food is consumed. In some cases, however, more dramatic changes occur. Among certain beetle families or genera, particularly those that exhibit parasitic lifestyles, the first instar (the planidium) is highly mobile in order to search out a host, while the following instars are more sedentary and remain on or within their host. This is known as hypermetamorphosis; examples include the blister beetles (family Meloidae) and some rove beetles, particularly those of the genus Aleochara.
As with all endopterygotes, beetle larvae pupate, and from this pupa emerges a fully formed, sexually mature adult beetle, or imago. Adults have an extremely variable lifespan, from weeks to years, depending on the species.
Besides being abundant and varied, the Coleoptera are able to exploit the wide diversity of food sources available in their many habitats. Some are generalists, eating both plants and animals. Other beetles are highly specialised in their diet. Many species of leaf beetles, longhorn beetles, and weevils are very host specific, feeding on only a single species of plant. Ground beetles and rove beetles (family Staphylinidae), among others, are primarily carnivorous and will catch and consume many other arthropods and small prey such as earthworms and snails. While most predatory beetles are generalists, a few species have more specific prey requirements or preferences.
Decaying organic matter is a primary diet for many species. This can range from dung, which is consumed by coprophagous species such as certain scarab beetles (family Scarabaeidae), to dead animals, which are eaten by necrophagous species such as the carrion beetles (family Silphidae). Some of the beetles found within dung and carrion are in fact predatory, such as the clown beetles, preying on the larvae of coprophagous and necrophagous insects.