Coleoptera: The Insanely Massive Order Of The Beetles

The Beetles (Coleoptera)

The Coleoptera (beetles) are the largest single order of insects.

They total a staggering 392,000 + named species according to The Catalogue of Life.

In 1977, 1 in 4 (or 25 percent) of all animal species was a beetle.

Beetles can be described as holometabolous insects with biting mouth parts and 2 pairs of wings. The first pair of which are modified into leathery elytra, which are not used in flight (though they may act as aerofoils). The Prothorax is large and the Mesothorax much reduced. The larvae are usually campodeiform or eruciform, with biting mouthparts. The pupa are generally adecticous and exarate.

Coleoptera range in size from 0.25 mm to over 170mm long, and comprise both the largest and very nearly the smallest insects in the world.

There are several different ways of measuring the size of an insect. Most people would consider the largest insect to be the bulkiest – and in this case the champion insect is the Acteaon Beetle from South America – the males of which can be 9cms long by 5cms wide by 4cms thick.

Coleoptera Megasoma actaeon
Actaeon beetle (Megasoma actaeon)

Another competitor for the title is the extremely rare South American Longhorn Beetle Titanus giganteus, these giants can be over 16cms in body length (not including antennae). Other longhorn beetles are nearly as long and may look bigger because of their longer legs i.e. Xixuthrus heros from Fiji. While another beetle, Dynastes hercules is also well known for reaching 16cms in length-  though it is not nearly a heavy.

In the other direction many beetles are less than one millimetre in length – and the North american Feather-winged Beetle Nanosella fungi at 0.25mm is a serious contender for the title of smallest insect in the world.

Coleoptera Taxonomy

It would be impossible to talk in general terms about such a vast panoply of organisms as the beetles. Given the space I have available to delineate the 125 Families in 4 Suborders, I intend to attack the Coleoptera in a series of small groups, most of which will be at family level. I hope eventually to have something up about all of the following at least:

  • Bark Beetles (Scolytidae)
  • Nicrophorus (Burying Beetles)
  • Chafers (Scarabaeidae)
  • Click Beetles (Elateridae)
  • Dung Beetles (Scarabaeoidea)
  • Carabidae (Ground Beetles)
  • Jewel Beetles (Buprestidae)
  • Coccinelidae (Lady Birds)
  • Larder Beetles (Dermestidae)
  • Leaf Beetles (Chrysomelidae)
  • Longhorn Beetles (Cerambycidae)
  • Mealworms and Relatives (Tenebrionidae)
  • Rove Beetles (Staphylinidae)
  • Soldier and Sailor Beetles ( Cantharidae)
  • Stag Beetles (Lucanidae)
  • Cicindelidae (Tiger Beetles)
  • True Water Beetles (Dytiscidae)
  • Weevils (Curculionidae)
  • Whirligig Beetles (Gyrinidae)
  • Woodworm Beetles (Anobiidae)
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Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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