Beetles can be beautiful, beneficial, bizarre

Ted MacRae, a research entomologist and beetle taxonomist, studies the ecology and conservation of beetles in North America and beyond. He details the beautiful and bizarre in the beetle world on his blog, Beetles in the Bush (

Q. What fascinates you about beetles?

A. Beetles far outnumber all other animal groups in number of species – in fact, 1 of every 4 described animal species on Earth is a beetle. This diversity in number is matched by an incredible diversity of color, form and lifestyle. Beetles are among the largest insects on Earth (the heaviest – the goliath beetle from Africa – weighs as much as a mouse) and also the smallest (it would take a quarter-million feather-winged beetles to weigh as much as a single goliath beetle). Some beetles (tiger beetles) can run so fast that they are blinded by their own speed. Beetles have lived on Earth since well before the dinosaurs and have managed to occupy almost every imaginable habitat.

Q. What are some of the common misconceptions about beetles?

A. One popular misconception is that beetles serve no good purpose. People may be unaware of the tremendous ecological services that beetles provide. The vast majority of beetles are not pests and may even be beneficial to crops by acting as predators or parasites of crop pests. Or by providing other ecological services such as pollination of flowers and serving as food for other wildlife.

Q. Beetles can be just as colorful as butterflies, but they don’t hold as high a place in the public’s affections. Why do you think this is?

A. Many people think beetles are the same as cockroaches because they are both brown and “crunchy.” In fact, beetles and cockroaches are no more closely related to each other than we are to hippopotamuses!

Q. Any new findings in the world of beetles?

A. Many beetles use pheromones – essentially, scents that others of the same species can smell over long distances – to find mates or call other beetles to a suitable host. These pheromones are being isolated, chemically identified and synthesized to allow studies not only of beetle communication but also as survey and detection tools for beetle species of economic importance.