©Getty Images

©Getty Images

Beetles are insects, and their group name is coleoptera (say collie-op-terra). The word coleoptera comes from the Greek words ‘koleos’ meaning sheath or shield, and ‘ptera’ (say terra), meaning wings. This is because most beetles have wings that fold up under a hard covering that is like a shield. This group is largest in the whole animal kingdom. There are about 350,000 different kinds of beetles that we know about. The smallest is about 1mm long, and the largest is 20 cm long. There are probably many unnamed beetles that we don’t yet know about. Beetles can be found in almost every place on earth in many habitats. They have been around for hundreds of millions of years.

What beetles look like

Soft wings for flying are under the hard wings that fold over them when not in flight. Getty Images

Soft wings for flying are under the hard wings that fold over them when not in flight. Getty Images

Beetles usually have two pairs of wings: hard front wings, and soft back wings which are used for flying. The back wings fold under the hard front wings when not in use. Being insects, all beetles have six legs. However, in different beetles the legs have different shapes according to their use: swimming, digging, jumping, grasping or running. Some kinds of beetles have sharp spines on their legs for defence.

Most beetles are plant eaters, but some eat other insects, and some feed on dead animals (carrion). Some beetles, like the ladybird, are useful to humans. Some are considered to be pests because of the damage they can do to crops or food.

Beetle Life Cycle

The larva of one kind of beetle ©Getty Images

The larva of one kind of beetle ©Getty Images

A beetle moves through four different stages in its life: egg, larva, pupa and adult.

Eggs hatch and a larva comes out of each one. The larva of different kinds of beetle will be different. As the larva grows it will moult several times. This means its skin splits and falls off, and underneath the larva has a new, bigger skin. The larva forms a pupa and goes into a kind of sleep,  during which time it will change completely and will emerge as an adult beetle. Different beetles have different ways of changing in these stages.

 

Pests and Helpers

Some beetles are considered to be pests.

For example, elephant weevils feed on grapevines, and are a problem pest in wine growing areas. Rice weevils get into areas where grain is stored and the females lay eggs inside the grains.

Some are considered to be helpful.

Not all ladybirds look the same. Getty Images

Not all ladybirds look the same. Getty Images

For example, dung beetles are an important part of the environment. They are valuable in areas where there are a lot of animals, where they clean up the animal poo. This means fewer flies, and it means the dung is taken underground where it more quickly benefits the soil. Most kinds of ladybirds are helpful in the garden because they eat plant-eating aphids.

Watch a video about African Dung beetles ©NeoK12