Order Coleoptera

The largest of insect orders, currently about 350,000 beetle species are known.  One of every five animals on earth is a beetle!  The name coleoptera or “sheath wings” derives from sheath-like wing cases, called elytra, that provide protection to a second, underlying pair of more delicate flight wings. The elytra are not used to power flight, but help stabilize the beetle as it flies.  Some beetles, such as various ground beetles, have lost the ability to fly.

Stag, Hercules, and Rhinoceros Beetles

Family Lucanidae and Family Scarabaeidae (Subfamily Dynastinae)

DISTRIBUTION: Worldwide distribution.

HABITAT: Mostly woodlands. Adults live and breed in damp, rotting wood.

APPEARANCE:  Medium to large beetles, males of some species have spectacularly large jaws. Females are considerably smaller in size, and lack the impressive “horns.”

DIET: Larvae feed on decaying wood, probably getting nutrition not just from the cellulose, but from the fungi and microbes decomposing it. Adults of most species feed on sugary liquid food, such as sap from wounded trees, aphid ” honeydew” secretions, and ripe fruit. Adults are unable to chew.

REPRODUCTION/DEVELOPMENT: Males use their huge jaws to fight for access to females. Individual males play “king of the hill,” only in their case they are fighting to win access to control a dead stump or tree that a discriminating female will find highly suitable as a residence to feed and protect her offspring. The male-male contest involves each trying to maneuver his huge mandible underneath and overturning his competitor, ideally knocking him to the ground. Injuries are rare, but the victor, who is typically the largest and strongest, gains the female, or often multiple females, as he controls the best breeding property.

Stag beetles evolutionary development of sexual dimorphism, with males being significantly larger than females, repeats a miniature version of a sexual strategy familiar in the animal kingdom: to the victor (the largest male) belongs the spoils (reproductive rights to pass along his genes). Even better, this strategy is most often found in haremic groups, where the male wins not only one female, but many.

MORTALITY/LONGEVITY: Larvae live 3-5 years, adults a few months.

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