The great British-born biologist JBS Haldane famously (if perhaps apocryphally) once said "If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of creation it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles." He was referring solely to the sheer, mind-squashing numbers of beetles (and stars). It is estimated that there are some 400,000 beetle species in the world; compare this to a mere 60,000 of all vertebrates put together, half of which are fish.
I'm a big fan of beetles, but I hope you'll make allowances for my ignorance of their taxonomy in particular, given the size of the task. Nonetheless I hope you find it worth while just to meet a couple of the ones in my photo files. One that is familiar to anyone in south-eastern Australia is the ominously named Plague Soldier Beetle, a snappily-dressed surprisingly soft-bodied beetle in the family Cantharidae. The 'plague' refers to fact that they sometimes gather in very large numbers on flowers, especially Leptospermum and Eucalyptus, for both mating and feeding. People can be intimidated by them, but in fact they play a significant role, both as adults and larvae, in munching through vast numbers of 'pest' insects including aphids, plant-chewing caterpillars and other larvae, grasshopper eggs etc.
|Plague Soldier Beetles, Chauliognathus lugubris, swarming at the|
Australian National Botanic Gardens.
Better known predators of aphids and scale insects in particular are the Ladybirds, family Coccinellidae; like the soldier beetles they too can form vast mating swarms at times.
|Hunting prey on a Snow Gum leaf in Namadgi National Park|
in the Brindabella Ranges above Canberra.
Harmonia species - what a delightful name!
Another group of beetles which superficially resemble ladybirds are the tortoise beetles, or paropsine beetles, genus Paropsis in the leaf beetle family Chrysomelidae. However they have an entirely different lifestyle, munching on eucalypt leaves as both adults and larvae. Gum leaves must be among the most appalling food in the world, with some hideous toxins, plus tannins which bind with the proteins to make the essential nitrogen unavailable to browsers. Tortoise beetles not only evade the toxins but somehow - and we don't know how - unravel the proteins from the tannins. Very few animals in the world have managed that.
|Paropsis beetles, larvae and adult, doing what they do best and most - |
eating eucalypt leaves.