Scarab Beetle: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

Scarab beetles are a fascinating group of insects with an incredible range. They come in various shapes, colors, and sizes, some even boasting iridescent green and other vibrant hues, like a living jewel. You might have seen them in their natural habitat or watched a documentary about these beetles and marveled at their beauty. In this article, we’ll delve into the world of scarab beetles and help you understand all there is to know about these captivating creatures.

As you explore the characteristics of scarab beetles, you’ll discover their diverse biology and intriguing life cycles. From the widely recognized dung beetles to the more elusive and brightly colored ones, there are many aspects to learn about these beetles. Appreciating the natural world often starts with understanding its inhabitants, and with scarab beetles, each species has a unique story to tell.

Throughout this article, we will discuss various species of scarab beetles, their habitats, and their roles in ecosystems. From their physical appearance to behavioral traits, we’ll provide a comprehensive overview. So, as you embark on this journey to learn about scarab beetles, prepare to uncover the astonishing world of these insects and the vital roles they play in nature.

Physical Characteristics of Scarab Beetles

Scarab beetles exhibit a wide range of physical characteristics, making them a diverse and fascinating group of insects. Here are some key features of their appearance:

  • Color: Scarab beetles can be found in various colors, ranging from black and brown to more vibrant and iridescent shades of green, gold, and silver1 2.
  • Size: Their size varies greatly among the more than 1,000 species found in North America alone3.
  • Body Shape: These beetles typically have an oval or elongated body, often with a rounded back1 4.

In addition to these features, scarab beetles also have unique antennae and legs:

  • Antennae: Their clubbed antennae consist of segments that can press together1. The lamellate antennae are especially noteworthy in the family Scarabaeidae4.
  • Legs: A key characteristic of scarab beetles is their five-segmented tarsi and front tibiae with scalloped edges4.

Below you’ll find a comparison table to highlight some of the main physical features of scarab beetles:

Feature Description
Color Black, brown, green, gold, and silver; can be iridescent2
Size Varies greatly among the 1,000+ species in North America3
Body Shape Oval or elongated, often with a rounded back1 4
Antennae Clubbed, with segments that can press together; lamellate1 4
Legs Five-segmented tarsi, front tibiae with scalloped edges4

Overall, the scarab beetle family is both diverse and fascinating in its physical characteristics. Their remarkable range of colors, shapes, and sizes makes them an intriguing group of insects to study and observe.

Categories and Notable Species

Dung Beetles

Dung beetles belong to the family Scarabaeidae and play a crucial role in recycling waste. For example, these insects help in breaking down and disposing of animal waste in the African savannas. Let’s look at some of their key features:

  • They feed on animal waste or dung.
  • Dung beetles come in various sizes, shapes, and colors.
  • Some dung beetles, like the rainbow scarab, have bright metallic green and copper hues.
  • They use their strong forelegs to dig and bury dung balls.

Stag and Rhinoceros Beetles

Stag and rhinoceros beetles belong to the Scarabaeidae family as well. They’re unique insects with some distinctive characteristics.

Stag Beetles:

  • They are characterized by their large size and impressive mandibles.
  • Male stag beetles use their mandibles to fight for territory and mates.

Rhinoceros Beetles:

  • They are characterized by their distinct horn-like projections.
  • Rhinoceros beetles are known for their incredible strength and can carry up to 850 times their body weight.

Adults from both beetle groups are known for their attraction to lights and are often seen flying around during summer evenings.

Blue Beetle and Other Variations

The Scarabaeidae family, with its diverse group of beetles, includes many colorful and interesting variations. Some unique species are:

Blue Beetle: This beetle has a striking iridescent blue color that catches the eye. They are found in various habitats and are known for their unusual coloration.

June Bugs: These beetles, typically brown or green, are recognized for their buzzing flight pattern in search of mates during summer months.

Japanese Beetle: This invasive species is known for its destructive feeding habits on a wide range of plants, causing significant damage to gardens and crops across North America.

Chafers: Within the subfamily Rutelinae, chafers are known for their varied colors, patterns, and fascinating life histories. They can be found in diverse habitats and play essential roles in the ecosystem.

Remember to appreciate the fascinating features and striking colors of these extraordinary insects but also respect their habitats and importance to the environment.

Habitat and Lifestyle

Scarab beetles are highly adaptable insects found in various habitats around the world. In the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere, they inhabit a wide range of ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, and deserts.

These beetles often associate with specific host plants and are drawn to particular trees and vegetation. Some species feed on leaves, nectar, or pollen, while others are known to consume carrion or decaying organic matter. Many scarab beetles are attracted to manure and are vital in recycling nutrients back into the ecosystem.

A few key features of scarab beetles include:

  • Mostly nocturnal
  • Varied sizes and colors
  • Clubbed antennae
  • Oval or elongated, stout bodies

A large proportion of scarab beetles are nocturnal and prefer to carry out their activities under the cover of darkness. This nocturnal behavior helps them avoid predators, ensuring their survival within their respective habitats.

Scarab beetles can be found in both Asia and other parts of the world, demonstrating their adaptability across continents and climates. These insects play a crucial role in maintaining the balance and health of their host ecosystems by aiding in nutrient recycling, pollination, and even pest control.

So, in your encounters with scarab beetles, you’ll likely find that they lead fascinating lives while contributing to the complex ecosystems they inhabit.

Significance in Ancient Egypt

Symbolism and Mythology

In ancient Egyptian culture, the scarab beetle played a crucial role in symbolism and mythology. The dung-rolling activities of the beetles reminded the Egyptians of the sun rolling across the sky. They believed the sun was pushed by a giant scarab, associated with the god of rebirth, Ra. This connection led them to view the beetle as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. The scarab beetle was often depicted with a net, an ancient Egyptian sign for protection and resurrection.

Jewelry and Amulets

Ancient Egyptians crafted scarab jewelry and amulets made of various materials, including silver and gold. They often wore these items for protection and good luck. These amulets were believed to secure the wearer’s path to the afterlife and were thought to play a role in the soul’s rebirth. Scarabs became a popular style of accessory with both the living and the dead, and they were commonly placed among the mummified remains in tombs.

Egyptians created scarab jewelry in different sizes and shapes for various uses, such as:

  • Pendants: Worn around the neck to symbolize good luck and protection.
  • Rings: Worn on the finger, with the beetle facing outward to display its decorative design.

Some features of scarab amulets include:

  • Carvings on the flat side, often featuring inscriptions or images.
  • Representations of specific gods or protective symbols.
  • Crafted from various materials, such as carnelian, lapis lazuli, and faience.

In summary, the scarab beetle had significant meaning in ancient Egypt, symbolizing rebirth, regeneration, and protection. Scarab jewelry and amulets were crafted in many styles and materials, reflecting the important cultural role these beetles played in the lives of ancient Egyptians.

Scarab Beetles and Pop Culture

In Animal Crossing

In the popular video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you might come across a scarab beetle. Their appearance usually begins in July and offers players opportunities to increase their virtual wealth. These beetles are known to spawn on trees and can be sold at a high price for bells, the in-game currency.

Catching one is a great accomplishment, and you can donate it to the museum to enhance your collection. Overall, the presence of scarab beetles in Animal Crossing showcases their unique appeal in today’s popular culture.

Blue Beetle Character in DC Universe

Another instance of the scarab beetle’s influence in pop culture can be seen in the DC Universe, specifically through the superhero character Blue Beetle. The Blue Beetle draws its power from the mystical “Khaji Da,” a scarab-shaped artifact from an alien race called The Reach, who were known to conquer planets.

This character has been portrayed by three different individuals across different comic series, namely Dan Garrett, Ted Kord, and Jaime Reyes. Each iteration of the Blue Beetle has had to deal with the scarab’s effects on their lives and so, the plot often revolves around the struggle to maintain control and use superhuman abilities for good, as well as facing challenges like kryptonite radiation and even resurrection.

The Blue Beetle’s presence in the DC Universe further demonstrates the durable impact of the scarab beetle in today’s pop culture, transcending time and civilizations, and exuding an air of mystery and intrigue.

Symbolism and Spiritual Meaning

The Scarab Beetle holds a significant place in ancient Egyptian symbolism. It is associated with renewal and rebirth due to its connection with the sun god Khepri, who was believed to be reborn each morning as a Scarab Beetle. The beetle’s regenerative powers make it a symbol of transformation and resilience, which were beneficial for the deceased in their journey to the afterlife.

Egyptians also considered the Scarab Beetle a symbol of balance, as it played a role in maintaining the daily cosmic order. They believed these magical properties could bestow health, success, and prosperity to those who used Scarab amulets. The amulets often were engraved with concise messages like “May Amun grant a good new year” or personal names and mottos such as “Firm of heart” (source).

Examples of symbols related to the Scarab Beetle:

  • Health: Scarab amulets were thought to harness the beetle’s regenerative powers for the wearer, promoting good health and well-being.
  • Success: The beetle’s role in the sun god’s daily rebirth symbolized the possibility of success and new achievements.
  • Prosperity: By maintaining cosmic balance, the Scarab Beetle was believed to bring prosperity and abundance to its believers.
  • New Beginning: As the sun god Khepri was reborn each day, the Scarab Beetle came to represent new beginnings and fresh starts.
  • Transformation: The beetle’s association with renewal and change made it an emblem of personal and spiritual transformation.
  • Resilience: The Scarab Beetle’s ability to continually regenerate itself symbolized resilience and the capacity to overcome adversity.
  • Balance: A vital aspect of the beetle’s symbolism, balance represented harmony and equilibrium in personal and cosmic aspects of life.

In conclusion, the Scarab Beetle’s symbolism and spiritual meaning represent a broad range of positive qualities, making it a revered symbol in ancient Egyptian culture and an enduring emblem of rebirth, transformation, and balance.

Role in Ecosystem

Scarab beetles play an essential part in the ecosystem as decomposers. These fascinating insects help break down waste materials, like dung, dead leaves, or other decaying organic matter. As a result, they contribute to recycling nutrients and improving soil quality.

What makes them efficient decomposers are their mandibles. They use these strong jaws to chew and process the organic matter, making it easier for other organisms to utilize the nutrients.

One interesting feature of scarab beetles is their clubbed antennae. These unique structures are comprised of segments that can press tightly together or spread out, allowing the beetle to detect smells and communicate with other beetles.

For example, the rainbow scarab beetle primarily feeds on dung, and their distinct metallic green and copper color make them easy to identify. They bury dung underground, which aids in controlling odors, reducing the spread of disease, and providing nutrients to the soil.

Here is a comparison table of two scarab beetles with different roles in the ecosystem:

Beetle Role in Ecosystem Unique Feature
Rainbow Scarab Decomposer (dung) Metallic green color
Red Turpentine Beetle Bark-boring pest Fan-shaped larval galleries in tree barks

In conclusion, the role of scarab beetles in the ecosystem is essential for maintaining the balance of nutrients, controlling pests, and improving soil health. Their unique adaptations, such as the decomposer capabilities, clubbed antennae and robust mandibles, make them invaluable contributors to the environment. So, the next time you encounter a scarab beetle, remember that they are doing their part to keep our planet healthy.

Footnotes

  1. https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/scarab-beetles-scarabaeids 2 3 4 5

  2. http://unsm-ento.unl.edu/Scarabs-for-Kids/scarabs.html 2

  3. https://genent.cals.ncsu.edu/insect-identification/order-coleoptera/family-scarabaeidae/ 2

  4. https://unsm-ento.unl.edu/Guide/Scarabaeoidea/Scarabaeoidea-pages/Scarabaeoidea-Overview/ScarabaeoideaO.html 2 3 4 5 6

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Unicorn Beetle

 

Subject: Unicorn beetle
Location: Bluegrass area of Kentucky, USA
July 14, 2016 8:28 am
I found this beetle walking across a busy parking lot. Folks were kind enough to stop while I shot this picture, then move him to a grassy area. I grew up with The Golden Books as my teacher about nature, and they listed these as unicorn beetles. This one was shown as the male of the species (and a lovely one he is). Your site lists them as Hercules beetles. After 60 years of calling them “unicorns,” it’s going to be awfully hard for me to change. 🙁
Signature: Gin

Unicorn Beetle
Unicorn Beetle

Dear Gin,
There is no need for you to change, and we would never think of challenging the iconic Golden Books when it comes to terminology.  According to BugGuide, the Eastern Hercules Beetle is also called a Rhinoceros Beetle or a Unicorn Beetle.  We are even titling your posting Unicorn Beetle in the interest of expanding terminology.

Thank you! Change at my age is…difficult. 🙂 I shall continue to call them unicorn beetles.

Letter 2 – Watermelon Bug

 

Hello Mr. Bug Guy!
Never seen anything like it before and we have no idea how it got into the house and onto the second floor landing. That’s as far from any open window as it gets in our place and not close to the ground, either. (Although we do have two cats and a kitten.) It was casually walking, slowly, along the carpet. Actually, it looked kinda sick. It wasn’t moving particularly fast or anything. We scooped it into a jar and within hours, there was barely a flicker of movement left. (Still Flickering, though, as I write this.) It’s not quite 3 cm from nose to tail. It’s coloring was much like a watermelon, the kind with a lot of contrast between the stripes. It had these two, strange paddles out front, looking a lot like shoehorns. Any idea what this bug might be? Is it local or some kind of import? I’m in San Jose, CA, at the southern tip of San Francisco Bay.
Thanks!
John

While cleaning out the old email account, we discovered these amazing photos sent in by John of a Ten Lined June Beetle, Polyphylla decemlineata. They are native and the adults eat pine needles while the grubs are considered pests of peach trees.

Letter 3 – Punctate Little Bear from Joshua Tree: Paracotalpa puncticollis

 

Beetle
Location: California
April 3, 2011 10:46 am
This Beetle was in Josha Tree park April 2,2011.
Signature: whales

Punctate Little Bear: Paracotalpa puncticollis

Dear whales,
In a relatively short time, we identified your beetle as a Shining Leaf Chafer,
Paracotalpa puncticollis, by utilizing the database on BugGuide, but sadly, there is not much information on the species.  There are several photos of specimens from Joshua Tree, including this wonderful image.  The Texas Beetle Information website identifies it as a Punctate Little Bear.  We also located an article from The Coleopterists Bulletin, vol. 26, No. 3 (Sep., 1972), pp. 97-101 that states:  “Paracotalpa puncticollis is usually found in pinyon-juniper areas, and appears to be associated with plants of the genus Juniperus.  Observations of adults emerging from litter at the base of juniper may indicate that larvae feed on roots of this plant.  Adults have been observed feeding on needles of juniper, and analysis of fecal material has confirmed this adult diet.  Attempts to find larvae on roots of Juniperus were unsuccessful, and no information is available on the larvae.”

Letter 4 – Splendid Earth Boring Beetle

 

crittercam
Fri, Nov 7, 2008 at 1:48 PM
Dear Daniel,  This beetle that I found in carrboro NC is a beautiful deep green.  he is smaller than a Junebug…just to give you some idea of his size.  He also had interesting little extensions on his antenne.  Could you identify him?
Thank you for all your great  work.  I just love your site.
Mary Sonis
Carrboro,  North Carolina

Splendid Earth Boring Beetle
Splendid Earth Boring Beetle

Hi Mary,
We knew that your beetle was one of the Dung Beetles, not necessarily the most attractive name for an insect, so we were quite pleased that our research turned up a more fitting name for your lovely scarab.  We can say with some certainty that this is a Splendid Earth Boring Beetle, Geotrupes splendidus.  It is described on BugGuide as being:  “Bright green, purplish black, or sometimes light blue. Pronotum coarsely, unevenly punctate. Elytral striae with distinct punctures “

Letter 5 – Sun Beetle from Egypt

 

Subject: Black and yellow beetle
Location: Egypt
June 17, 2017 2:36 am
I found this in my garden early morning. Was wondering what it is? Also think the photo would be a good addition for you. Thanks so much
Signature: Whitney

Sun Beetle

Dear Whitney,
Several years ago, we identified a similar looking individual from Egypt as a Sun Beetle,
Pachnoda savignyi.  There are some nice images on Beetle Space.

Letter 6 – Unknown May Beetles from Mexico

 

Subject: Nightime beetles
Location: Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México
May 14, 2014 9:47 am
These small brown beetle-like bugs vanish during the day, but are out after dark by the hundreds, merrily chewing the leaf margins on various plants. Their favorites seem to be oregano, honeysuckle, rose, the tender flowers of cana lillies, and avocado. They seem to prefer young leaves. Often they are stacked one atop another as if they are mating. They only appear at our house in late April, early May. We are in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México, at an altitude of about 7,200 feet. May is the dry, warmest month of the year (before the cooler rainy season begins), with daytime temperatures in the low 80s. Several locals we asked call them “cumbos” but that doesn’t translate into anything that makes sense.
I’d like to have them identified so I could research their behavior, life cycle and possible control mechanisms. Hand removing them by flashlight is taking about an hour every night and getting tedious.
I took the accompanying photos last night. They very much alive, though perhaps a bit dazed from being unceremoniously interrupted in the middle of their favorite activities — eating and mating.
Thanks for any help you can provide.
Signature: Mark B Emmer

May Beetles
May Beetles

Hi Mark,
These are Scarab Beetles in the family Scarabaeidae, and they are most likely May Beetles in the subfamily Melolonthinae, but we are unable to provide you with anything more specific at this time.  Perhaps a coleopterist, an entomologist who specializes in beetles, will write in and provide us with a genus or species identification.  Meanwhile, you can read more about the subfamily on BugGuide.

May Beetles
May Beetles

Wow!  Thank you.  From the photographs on that page, it appears that Phyllophaga rubiginosa is a dead ringer for what we have.  I’ll look closer at ours with a 10 power loope now that I have something to compare it to.
The links I found say the source is grubs in our lawn.  I will go have a look now that I have some information on their life cycle.
Again, thank you for your help.
Mark Emmer
Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México

May Beetles
May Beetles

 

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

2 thoughts on “Scarab Beetle: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

    • Beetles have mandibles, so theoretically all beetles can bite, but the Splendid Earth Boring Beetle is not an aggressive species and in the unlikely event that a “bite” did occur, we doubt that the human skin would even be broken.

      Reply

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