12 Unbelievable Beetle Species

Extraordinary five types of beetle species under magnifying glass illo

Treehugger / Caitlin Rogers

Beetles, the group of insects that form the order Coleoptera, represent not only 40 percent of all known insect species but also a staggering 25 percent of all species on Earth. With about 350,000 species, it's no surprise that great diversity exists within the order. Beetles are described as insects with hardened front wings, called elytra, but they come in an array of shapes (from tortoiselike to giraffe-necked), sizes, colors, and patterns.

From the stag beetle, with its pincerlike mandibles, to the iridescent jewel beetle, discover 12 of the most spectacular beetle species and what makes them extraordinary.

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Ladybird Beetles

Close-up of a ladybug walking on a daisy
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Ladybird beetles (Coccinellidae), more commonly known as ladybugs, are small, polka-dotted natural pest controllers. They love to feast on aphids and other insects that threaten gardens, orchards, and crops.

Despite the vital role they play in agriculture, ladybirds can seem like pests themselves. During the winter, the otherwise solitary beetles can be found cozying up to each other in massive clumps called "aggregations." These seasonal gatherings can sometimes frustrate humans, as they often take place in warm houses. Nevertheless, a ladybug infestation is totally harmless; the bugs don't carry diseases, damage structures, or lay eggs indoors.

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Cockchafers

Side view of a cockchafer on a leaf

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Also known as doodlebugs or maybugs, cockchafers (encompassing three species, belonging to the genus Melolontha) are easily identified by the distinctive "leaves" protruding from their antennae. These flamboyantly coiffed beetles once existed in great numbers throughout Europe, and their voracious appetites made them a common agricultural nuisance. That is, until the rise of widespread insecticide use in the mid-20th century caused their numbers to dramatically decline.

Despite their near eradication, tighter regulation of the pest control industry beginning in the 1980s has allowed cockchafer populations to gradually recover in some regions.

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Jewel Beetles

Jewel beetle upside down, eating a leaf
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Named for their iridescent exteriors, jewel beetles (comprising the Buprestidae family) are without a doubt some of the world's most beautiful Coleopteras. The glossy, hardened, and shade-shifting forewings of these wood-boring insects have a long history of being used for jewelry, embroidered textiles, and other decorative arts. The most common examples of the ancient craft of "beetlewing" can be found in Asian countries like China, Japan, India, Thailand, and Myanmar.

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Colorado Potato Beetles

Colorado potato beetle eating potato leaves
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The brilliant orange-yellow hue and decorative stripes and spots of the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) belie its status as one of the most notorious pests of the potato plant. Over the past century, farmers have trialed all sorts of pesticides to combat the beetles' voracious appetites, but due to their ability to rapidly build up resistance to chemicals, nearly all major insecticides have proven ineffective against them.

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Giraffe Weevils

Giraffe weevil on a leaf, lifting its long neck
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Endemic to Madagascar, giraffe weevils (Trachelophorus giraffa) are named for their elongated necks, evolved for fighting and building elaborate nests. They are a sexually dimorphic species, meaning males and females exhibit different physical characteristics besides their sexual organs. A male's neck is double or triple the size of a female's, the San Francisco Zoo says. Both sexes have those characteristic bright red elytra.

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Golden Tortoise Beetles

Close-up of a gold tortoise beetle on a leaf
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There are two types of golden tortoise beetle: Charidotella sexpunctata and Aspidimorpha sanctaecrucis. The former is native to the Americas while the latter is considered an Old World species, endemic to Southeast Asia. Both have unique tortoise shell-shaped, two-toned elytra, partially colored a brilliant metallic gold and partially transparent with spots. Its regal hue has earned it the nickname "goldbug."

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Tiger Beetles

Side view of a tiger beetle on sand
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Tiger beetles are a large group of about 2,600 insects sharing the Cicindelinae subfamily. They are distinguished by their bulging eyes and long, spindly legs, which allow some — like the Australian tiger beetle (Cicindela hudsoni) — to run up to 5.6 mph. It is, therefore, the fastest known insect in the world.

The Salt Creek tiger beetle (Cicindela nevadica lincolniana) is considered endangered (i.e., protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act) and is one of the rarest insects in the U.S.

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Namib Desert Beetles

Namib desert beetle with water droplets on its legs
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While it may look like any old beetle, the Namib Desert beetle is set apart not necessarily for its appearance, but for its unique way of collecting water. It's called fog basking: The beetle leans its body into the wind and lets water droplets from the damp air accumulate on its legs, then travel down its body into its mouth. Scientists inspired by the hydrophilic properties of the beetle's bumpy back are developing groundbreaking technology that can can harvest water from the air.

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Flower Chafers

Green rose chafer nectaring on a blackberry flower
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Flower chafers — a category of scarab beetles that make up the subfamily Cetoniinae — are called so because they live on plant pollen, nectar, and fruit. They are the only beetles in the family Scarabaeidae that have a global distribution. There are about 3,600 species of flower chafer (many of which have yet to be described), and while a number of them exhibit brilliant, iridescent color, some of them are more subdued in appearance.

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Longhorn Beetles

Longhorned beetle on the yellow pistil of a pink flower
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Longhorn beetles (Cerambycidae) have extremely long antennae reminiscent of the massive horns of longhorn cattle. They're quite striking in their imago (final) state, but as larvae, they can be quite invasive. The roundheaded borers, as they're also called, are experts at burrowing into wood and destroying living trees, wooden homes, and untreated lumber. Of all 26,000 species, the rare titan beetle (Titanus giganteus) is one of the largest insects in the world. Known to grow up to 6.5 inches in length, the beetle's mandibles are powerful enough to snap a pencil in half.

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Stag Beetles

Stag beetle on stones, raising its large jaws
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There are about 1,200 species of stag beetle (Lucanidae) in the world and all have pincerlike mandibles. As a sexually dimorphic species, the male is equipped with a set of impressive jaws that he uses to fight other males when competing for a mate. While the mandibles of a female stag beetle are notably smaller, they can still pack quite a painful bite — not that they go for human flesh very often.

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Dogbane Beetles

Metallic dogbane beetle on a leaf
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Found throughout eastern North America, dogbane beetles (Chrysochus auratus) boast metallic elytra that shine blue-green, metallic copper, golden, and crimson as they catch the light while munching on their favorite hemp plant, dogbane. The beetle belongs to a massive family of leaf eaters called Chrysomelidae, making it a distant cousin of the pesky Colorado potato beetle.