By Eric Duran
Most of us go through our day never thinking about beetles. Fair enough. If you’re a hiker or a gardener though, you do run across them here and there.
While most beetles are fairly inconspicuous, some can be quite large, and others can be rather beautiful. Most beetles are easily recognizable by their hard, shiny wing covers, though some may look softer (like net wing beetles). Beetles are the most bio-diverse group of animals on Earth with somewhere around 400,000 described species. They live around the world in rain forests, deserts, rivers, lakes and right here in your back yard.
With names like “lightning bug” (in the south) and Firefly, you can be forgiven for not knowing that fireflies are, in fact, beetles. We don’t see them as much as we used to, as they are very sensitive to chemical pollution, development and light pollution.
These beetles are famous for lighting up the ends of their abdomens to attract mates. They use a chemical concoction to create the light. The females and males of each species have a specific pattern of light flashing and flight moves, their own species’ light code. Some females use the light codes of other species to attract their males — and devour them.
One of the showiest and most noticeable families of beetles are the ladybugs (AKA ladybirds). There are actually several species in our area, like the seven-spotted, convergent and Asian ladybird. All the ladybird beetles are predatory, feeding on smaller insects like aphids, scale insects, and thrips.
The bright red and black colors of most species is warning coloration, as ladybugs are poisonous (which means that you shouldn’t eat them, but they are not venomous). Ladybugs come in other color combinations though, like yellow and black, pink and black, black with red spots, and white and black.
The leaf beetles are a varied group, with different sizes and color patterns. As the name would suggest, this group tends to feed mainly on plants leaves. One of the more infamous leaf beetles is the Colorado Potato Beetle, well known for feeding on potato plants. They also feed on other plants in the nightshade family, like wild nightshades, eggplants, tomatoes and peppers.
Though they’re considered pests by most people, I’ve always loved these beetles. I can remember seeing them amble around my mother’s vegetable garden, when I was a small child. I was always drawn to their round little bodies and bold stripes. In my own garden, as an adult, I just buy them more plants at the garden center, if they show up on my potatoes or eggplants.
Hopefully, you found the animals we covered here today to be intriguing, if not enticing! If so, you should look around in your own back yard for beetles, or head into your local park. You should also join us on our upcoming Walk on the Wildside family nature hike, coming up at 10 a.m. Sept. 28. Call 713-667-6550 or visit naturediscoverycenter.org for details.
Duran is head naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire.