FEBRUARY
1989

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

02-10-89

THE AGE OF BEETLES

We live in the age of beetles.  This idea may puzzle some people, but the truth is beetles are the most common animal present on the surface of the earth.  There are well over one quarter million species of beetles.  One animal in every four is a beetle.

Beetles tend to keep a low profile, so they're not frequently observed.  To be sure, most of us notice the ladybird beetle feeding on aphids on our rosebushes.  We may even take note of the sound of May beetles crashing into lighted window panes in the spring and summer.  And, on occasion, we fleetingly admire the black beetles that manage to wander into our basements – that is, before we step on them.  But unlike their showier cousins, the butterflies and moths, beetles generally go unnoticed.

Beetles are equipped to avoid the limelight.  The hard shell that beetles wear as protection allows them the freedom to inhabit the underground of nature.  Beetles are often found under things such as leaf litter, tree bark, rocks, boards, and carpets.  That hard shell will even allow them to withstand the footfall of a hefty human, at least if the soil is soft.

The name beetle comes from the Old English word meaning “to bite,” an early recognition of the rather fearsome biting mouthparts of many beetles.  The word beetle is also used to describe a heavy hammer and something that projects, such as a beetle-browed person.

The look of beetles, that indescribable beetleness of this group of insects, was simulated in the shape of that now-famous automobile – the Volkswagen beetle.  Some folks have been known to call the volkswagen version a bug – an entomological error.  Real beetles are not bugs, but they are insects.

Of course, any discussion of beetles brings to mind the British rock group of the same name.  It is not entirely clear how the four lads from  Liverpool arrived at the name the Beatles.  However, it has been suggested that they so admired Buddy Holly and the Crickets that they too wanted a name with an entomological connection.   They may have changed the spelling to Beatles to reflect the style of music they played, known then England as “beat” music.

In the early days of the British rock invasion, some people who saw the Beatles and their haircuts – or lack thereof – were probably reminded of beetles of the insect variety.  To some their music may have conjured up thoughts of a band of insects.  But then life was never meant to be easy, for beetles or Beatles.  The success of both groups speaks for itself.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox