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Introduction

The Coleoptera, or beetles, includes many commonly encountered insects such as ladybird beetles (family Coccinellidae), click beetles (Elateridae), scarabs (Scarabaeidae), and fireflies (Lampyridae). They live throughout the world (except Antarctica), but are most speciose in the tropics.

The oldest beetle fossils are from the Lower Permian (about 265 million years old; Ponomarenko, 1995); since then the group has diversified into many different forms. They range in size from minute featherwing beetles (Ptiliidae), adults of which are as small as 0.3 mm long, to the giant Goliath and Hercules beetles (Scarabaeidae), which can be well over 15 cm. While most species are phytophagous, many are predacious, or fungivores, or are parasitoids. They communicate to one another in many ways, either by use of chemicals (e.g. pheromones), sounds (e.g. stridulation), or by visual means (e.g. fireflies). They live in rainforest canopies, the driest deserts, in lakes, and above treeline on mountains.

In one sense the most unusual property of beetles is not some aspect of their structure or natural history, but their sheer number. There are more known species of Coleoptera than any other group of organisms, with over 350,000 described species. Perhaps the most famous quote about beetles comes from the great population geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, who was asked what might be learned about a Creator by examining the world. His response: "an inordinate fondness for beetles" (Fisher, 1988).

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