Beetles are a group of insects with a massive amount of species – more than any other order – that account for 25% of all known animal life forms. What makes a beetle unique among other insects is its hard carapace that protects (usually) two pairs of wings when the beetle is not in flight. This makes the Beetle the perfect, rugged, all-round insect capable of fast and effective travel by land and air – the Daley Thompson of the Insect world.
The Beetles’ Latin name is Coleoptera which is derived from the original Greek word for “sheathed wing”. The sheath or exoskeleton that protects its fragile wings is the major common characteristic shared by all Beetles. It is a beautiful example of natural engineering. When a beetle takes to the air the two halves that make up the carapace or shell, open up like flower petals coming to bloom, allowing the Beetles’ two sets of wings to beat together in perfect syncopation. Other than sharing this carapace, species of beetle vary wildly in size, shape, colour and behaviour. They are able to adapt to nearly all natural habitats and not just the land and air but marine and freshwater environments also.
There are currently 350,000 to 400,000 species of beetle that have been classified out of potential 4 million. Why so many? I think the answer lies within the carapace and protected wings, the very defining characteristic of the beetle. This is such a useful attribute to have that despite millions of years of evolution, whereas in some other animals certain characteristics might have been lost and replaced with others, this ability to function so effectively both in the air and on land has been retained. To have such durability and to also to be able to move to new habitats when old ones were threatened has enabled beetles to subdivide exponentially along different evolutionary lines while still retaining nature’s perfect blueprint for land and air travel.