Beetles, the Most Numerous Kind of Wildlife in the World
by Ro Wauer
On a recent to the Big Thicket to photograph butterflies, I was amazed at the number and diversity of beetles. Although I wasn't particularly interested in photographing these creatures, I succumbed when I found some truly outstanding beetle species, such as armored beetles, click beetles, and tiger beetles. And since the variety of butterflies wasn't what I had hoped for, I spent more time than I might otherwise watching and photographing beetles. Having recently "gone digital," after taking slides for more years that I will admit to, I shot lots of critters without worry of wasting expensive film. The digital camera is one amazing piece of equipment!
Even as a novice I was able to take much better images that I ever was able to do with slide film.
Probably the most colorful beetles found during my trip, and similar species also occur in all of South Texas, were the tiger beetles. Many were iridescent green with long legs and bulging eyes. It took several tries before one stayed still long enough for me to get a few photographs. These bright green beetles, barely half an inch in length, must have great eyesight, as most moved off as soon as I approached even within five to six feet. They were able to both run away as well as fly off, a real challenge. Tiger beetles get their name from their ferocious behavior; they are predacious. They usually occur in open, sandy locations where they either wait for passing insects or they lurk at the top of burrows awaiting prey to appear. They capture their prey their sickle-shaped jaws.
Another of the really outstanding beetles were the eyed click beetles, a two-inch, hard-shelled creature with two large eyespots on the head. These features give one the impression that they are staring at you, but the eyespots have evolved as a method of defense to fool a predator that might well think again before attacking such a watchful insect. Click beetles are named for their ability to make surprisingly loud clicking sounds. When threatened, they normally drop to the ground and play dead. If they happen to land upside down, they eventually arch their back, then snap it straight, an action that launches their body into the air with an audible click and, with luck, lands them on their feet again.
Maybe the best known beetle is the ladybird beetle, or ladybug, not a bug but a true beetle. Late spring is good time for ladybugs, when they can appear almost anywhere. These small, round, and colorful beetles are among the most beneficial and popular insects. Most are red with red or yellow spots. In spite of their small size, they are formidable predators; both adults and larvae devour huge numbers of aphids and other harmful insects. More than 150 species of ladybird beetles are found in North America, and almost all are helpful to farmers and gardeners. Some species are raised commercially and sold as natural pest controls.
Beetles total about 300,000 kinds worldwide, outnumbering all the known mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish combined. Their success has been due to their amazing adaptability, as they have been found in nearly every habitat, including freshwater ponds and streams, but not the oceans. They all live in the soil, but burrow in wood and other plant tissues. One species is even capable of tunneling into the lead sheathing of telephone cables. Although almost all are able to fly, they often are more awkward than flies and many other insects.
Most beetles are vegetarians, but some, like the tiger beetles, are predators. All adults have stiff, shieldlike front wings that protect the abdomen and the delicate hind wings that do the flying. Thus armored, they can borrow into the ground or force their way under logs and stones without injuring their bodies or tearing their wings. Nature has developed a perfect "bug" in beetles.