The ship-timber beetle is a fascinating species well worth learning about. As the name suggests, this beetle has a special affinity for wooden structures, making them particularly interested in ships. Understanding this unique beetle species can help you better appreciate the complexities of the natural world and possibly protect your wooden belongings from potential damage.
When it comes to distinguishing the ship-timber beetle from other beetle species, some key features make them stand out. For example, they have a distinctive appearance that sets them apart from their relatives. As you delve into the world of ship-timber beetles, you will find that these creatures have interesting behaviors and play a significant role in the ecosystem.
In this article, you will gain valuable knowledge about the ship-timber beetle, including their preferred habitats, lifecycle, and how they interact with their surroundings. By the end, you will have a comprehensive understanding of this beetle species and its impact on both natural and man-made structures. So, let’s dive in and explore the remarkable world of ship-timber beetles.
Defining The Species
Legs And Wings
Ship timber beetles, belonging to the order Coleoptera, possess two pairs of wings. Their hind wings exhibit a fan-like venation, which helps in flight. Forewings, also known as elytra, are hardened and thickened, covering the hind wings and abdomen.
Here are some wing characteristics:
- Forewings (Elytra): Hardened and thickened
- Hind wings: Delicate, fan-like venation
These beetles have morphological features such as slender, cylindrical bodies, prominent eyes, and varying antenna shapes. Antennae play a crucial role in sensing their environment, with diversities in size and shape among species.
Here are some general features of Ship Timber Beetles:
- Body: Slender and cylindrical
- Eyes: Prominent, well-developed
- Antennae: Vary in size and shape
Genera and Species
Ship timber beetles include various genera such as Atractocerus, Lymexylon, and Melittomma. Atractocerinae is a subfamily containing species like Atractocerus brevicornis, while other genera under this family include Australymexylon, Melittommopsis, Protomelittomma, and Cratoatractocerus.
Some notable beetle genera and species include:
- Atractocerinae (Subfamily)
- Atractocerus brevicornis
These fascinating beetles serve a role in their ecosystems. Understanding the different aspects of their biology, morphology, and behavior can help guide their conservation and management.
Life Cycle And Habits
The life cycle of the Ship Timber Beetle (Palisot de Beauvois) starts with the female using her ovipositor to lay eggs inside living or decaying wood. This ensures that larvae have a safe and nutritious environment to feed on and develop.
As Ship Timber Beetle larvae grow, they feed on the surrounding wood and the ambrosia fungi that colonize the timber. This symbiotic association provides essential nutrients to both the beetle and the fungus. After going through several growth stages, the larvae will pupate and eventually emerge as adults, ready to mate and continue the cycle.
The Ship Timber Beetle can be found in various habitats where there’s timber, including living wood, decaying wood, and sometimes stored lumber. These beetles have a symbiotic association with ambrosia fungi, which they spread to new environments through their spores. Here are some common habitats where you might find Ship Timber Beetles:
- Forests with decaying timber
- Woodpiles and lumber yards
- Ships and wooden structures near water
Ship Timber Beetles have a mixed diet in their different life stages. The larvae primarily feed on the wood and fungi which they depend on for survival. The adult beetles may also consume some fungus, but mainly, they focus on finding suitable locations to lay their eggs and spread the fungal spores.
These beetles have a highly unique feeding habit, which is defined by their symbiotic associations with the endomyces hylecoeti fungus. This predatory lifestyle helps keep the timber beetle nourished and ensures the propagation of ambrosia fungi.
In conclusion, understanding the life cycle and feeding habits of the Ship Timber Beetle can help in better managing these insects and the impact they have on their environment, especially when it comes to the timber industry.
The Ship Timber Beetle is found in various regions across the globe. In Africa, you can find them in countries like South Africa. They also inhabit Central American countries like Costa Rica and are spotted in Asian countries such as Myanmar.
These beetles have adapted to different climates and environments. For instance, you could come across them in tropical rainforests, sub-tropical areas, and even dry savannahs.
Some factors that affect their distribution include temperature, rainfall, and the availability of host trees. If you want to find them easily, search for areas with an abundance of dead or dying trees, as this is their preferred breeding site.
In summary, the Ship Timber Beetle is a fascinating species that has found its way to various parts of the world. Their adaptability and ability to inhabit different environments make them an intriguing insect to study. Happy exploring!
Historical And Prehistorical Context
Fossil records provide valuable insights into the history of the Ship Timber Beetle. The study of Burmese amber and Baltic amber from different time periods has revealed fascinating details about these ancient beetles.
For example, the Cenomanian period, dating back 100 million years, provides the earliest known fossils of the Ship Timber Beetle. Another fascinating find comes from the Eocene period, approximately 56 to 34 million years ago, which includes a well-preserved specimen of Elateroides dermestoides.
The evolutionary history of the Ship Timber Beetle is complex and intriguing. Researchers, such as Lane, Urtea, Zhang, Yamamoto, and Wolf-Schwenninger, have studied the beetle’s phylogenetic tree and identified its various relationships with other insect groups.
For instance, studies have shown that the Ship Timber Beetle belongs to the superfamily Elateriformia, which also includes the firefly family (Lampyridae) and several others. Additionally, the beetle shares characteristics with unrelated insect orders like Diptera (flies) and Strepsiptera (twisted-wing parasites).
Further investigations into the beetle’s lineage have placed it within the cleroidea and cerambycidae families, which includes scarab beetles (Scarabaeoidea) and longhorn beetles (Cerambycidae), respectively. Ship Timber Beetles have distinct features, such as their wing structure, which sets them apart from closely related species like wasps and other beetles in the Cucujoidea family.
Ship Timber Beetles, also known as Wood-boring beetles, are considered a destructive pest that can cause serious damage to wooden structures, primarily ships and hardwood furniture. Their presence can negatively impact the economy on multiple levels.
For instance, when it comes to the shipping industry, these beetles can weaken the integrity of wooden vessels by drilling into their hulls. They create tunnel walls within the wood, which can lead to decay and compromise the ship’s structural integrity. As a result, repairs or even replacements become necessary, costing businesses time and money.
Ship Timber Beetles can also attack hardwood furniture, causing costly damage. In addition to affecting the furniture industry, this can impact homeowners who may need to replace valuable pieces. Besides ships and hardwood, these beetles are known to infest palm stems, causing similar issues in the agriculture sector.
To give you a better understanding, the Ship Timber Beetle and the potential damage it can cause can be compared to the following:
|Ship Timber Beetle
|Southern Pine Beetle (for reference)
|Ships, hardwoods, palm stems
|Southern pine trees
|Type of Damage
|Decay, tunnel wall, structural damage
|Tree death, bark damage, needle yellowing
|Shipping industry, furniture industry, agriculture
|Timber industry, forest management
In summary, the economic significance of Ship Timber Beetles lies in the damage they can cause to various industries like shipping, furniture, and agriculture. Addressing this issue requires vigilance and prevention measures to protect valuable assets from infestation and the potential for serious financial setbacks.
Ship timber beetles belong to the family Lymexylidae in the insect order of Coleoptera. These beetles are part of a superfamily known as Elateroidea and have a common name: ship-timber beetle.
When studying ship timber beetles, entomology plays a critical role in understanding their characteristics and behavior. One of the geniuses within the family Lymexylidae you might encounter is Hylecoetus, which comprises several species of ship timber beetles.
In terms of appearance, ship timber beetles have unique features that set them apart from other insects. For example:
- Cerci: These beetles have short or absent cerci, which are sensory appendages at the end of their abdomen.
- Tarsi: Their tarsi are five-segmented, which is an essential feature when identifying them within the Coleoptera order.
- Wing venation: The wing venation in ship timber beetles is distinctly simplified compared to other beetles.
To dive deeper into the world of ship timber beetles, you can explore the works of researchers like Sergey V. Kazantsev and Oskar Paulus, who have significant contributions to the field of entomology regarding this family. Their studies and observations provide valuable insights into the behavior, morphology, and classification of these interesting beetles.
Ship timber beetles are fascinating creatures with many unique features. By exploring their scientific classification and distinctive characteristics, you can enrich your knowledge on these intriguing insects.
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 – Possibly Ship-Timber Beetle from West Africa
Location: guinea west africa
December 19, 2012 4:24 pm
this bug is 6.5 cm, black and resembles bug on the website sidebar. Short antennae.
Signature: Codfish Joe
Hi Codfish Joe,
This is not an Earwig, but it does remind us of a very unusual beetle we have in our archive, the Ship-Timber Beetle. We have a representative that was photographed in Costa Rica and it has been identified as being in the family Lymexylidae and the genus Atractocerus. We will need to do additional research to see if the Ship-Timber Beetles are known to be found in Africa. This posting from Beetles in the Bush makes our identification likely correct. According to Beetles in the Bush: “Atractocerus species are rarely encountered and therefore, not well studied. Their evolutionary history is still unknown; however, the oldest known lymexylid fossil is a very primitive member of the genus Atractocerus preserved in 100 myo Burmese amber (Grimwold & Engel 2005). Thus, the lineage containing these beetles had already appeared by the mid-Cretaceous and may have originated as early as the Jurassic, a fact that has earned them the moniker “living fossils.” These beetles were once thought to be among the most primitive of all Coleoptera – their simple wing venation, almost undifferentiated antennae and tarsi, and naked abdomen being likened to a supposed neuropteran common ancestor. ”
Thank you so much for responding so quickly. I am Codfish Joe’s mom, and I want to tell you what a blessing you have been to him with your website. We live in Guinea, Africa, and see many interesting wildlife here (mostly bugs!). He is very much a nature lover, and it enriches his day when he can identify one of God’s creatures that he has discovered. I did manage to find that the Ship Timber Beetle lives in SOUTH Africa, but we are a long way from there (closer to Senegal and Sierra Leone), so I don’t know if it would be here or not. Our dog found it and was playing with it. We’ve lived here 5 years, and it is our first time to see the ugly thing!
Dear CFJ’s mom,
Thanks for your kind response. We are pretty certain about the identification.
Letter 2 – Ship Timber Beetle
Subject: Australian Possibly Coleoptera or Hymenoptera?
Location: Canberra, Australia
January 14, 2014 5:12 am
I usually like to entertain myself by attempting to identify insects around my house, sketch and release them. I can often identify down to the species thanks to many helpful Lucid keys such as from CSIRO. Your website is also incredibly useful in finding insects and links to info pages.
However, tonight I’m stumped as to even which Order this insect belongs to.
My mum thinks it is a beetle because it appears to have elytra and my dad thinks it is a wasp because of it’s elongated body.
It has huge compound eyes, no evident ocelli eyes, hardened forewings which do not cover the membranous hindwings stretching over just half of the body. It’s antennae are short, curved and filamented, and are tucked under the head at rest. It has long mouthparts that if anything resemble a fly’s. It also has a long “filament” which sometimes protrudes from it’s abdomen which I can only assume is genitalia.
I hope that is enough information. Sorry for phone photos!
This is quite a find, and our collective hats go off to your mother for actually correctly identifying the insect order. This really is a beetle, despite its decidedly un-beetle-like appearance. It is a Ship Timber Beetle in the family Lymexylidae and probably the genus Atractocerus, and it is represented in our archives a scant three times, prior to your submission. There is considerable information from our previous postings, but we are going to search the web for additional links with additional information. According to BioDiversity Explorer: “Adults are attracted to light at night and larvae bore into hard wood and palm stems.” According to British Insects: the families of Coleoptera, they are capable of: “Boring into living wood (causing fungal infections on which the larvae feed), or boring into dead wood.” According to Beetles in the Bush: “Nothing is known about the biology of Atractocerus, but larvae of other genera are reported to bore into hardwoods and palm stems (Picker et al. 2002). Larvae of the genera Lymexylon and Melittomma are believed to form symbiotic associations with ambrosia fungi that grow on the walls of their galleries (Young, 2002). Adult females deposit fungal spores in a sticky matrix when they lay their eggs, and the hatching larvae carry the spores into wood on their bodies. The large eyes of Atractocerus, however, suggest a predatory lifestyle. The common name of the family originates from a northern European species that has in the past been a destructive pest of ship timbers.” There is a host of information in Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia. The Atlas of Living Australia has a record of Atractocerus crassicornis Clark, 1931, from the northeast corner of West Australia, and there is a record of another species, Atractocerus tasmaniensis Lea, 1917, from Tasmania, also on the Atlas of Living Australia. Yet another species, Atractocerus victoriensis is listed, but not pictured, on the Australian Faunal Directory. According to A Guide to the Beetles of Australia (and we have to type this out because the document will not allow us to cut and paste): “Ship-timber beetles are extraordinarily slender with a distinctive shape. Members of the genus Atractocerus have very short elytra and well-developed, gauzy flying wings. When these beetles are at rest, their wings are folded fan-like but as the reduced elytra can not cover them, they are exposed. Gravid females have enormously swollen abdomens. They lay their eggs in woulds of eucalypts and possibly other hardwoods too. The cylindrical and elongate larvae have short, strong legs, and a hood-like pronotum, which partially conceals the head from above. They bore into the timber and grow to considerable size (up to 35 mm in length). Their tunnels run parallel and transversally with and to the grain. Discontinuous, irregular bands of stain marks caused by their activity discolour the timber. The larvae feed on a fungus, which grows on the walls of their tunnels in the timber. This fungus is transmitted by the beetles themselves. It is presumed that their development takes at least two years. Adults can be found in decaying timber, on tree trunks and occasioinally fly to artificial lights. Adult specimens of a Western Asutralian species of Atractocerus sometimes fly in swarms at dusk.” Thanks so much for contributing additional photos of this rarity, and our first example from Australia, to our archives.
Letter 3 – Ship Timber Beetle from El Salvador
Subject: Long abdomen shor wings
Location: San Salvador, El Salvador
July 21, 2015 8:05 am
Hello Mr Bugman.
I found this insect flying around in my room.
The noise was loud, and when I caught the insect, small babies were coming out of it.
What’s the name of this insect?
Signature: Erick Rodas
We would have been totally stumped had we not identified a Ship Timber Beetle in the genus Atractocerus in the past. Though the image is too blurry to be certain, we believe what you have mistaken for “small babies” are actually phoretic mites.
That’s the one! Thank you a lot!
I really appreciate it.. And well, now I know! Thanks!
Letter 4 – Ship Timber Beetle from South Africa
Subject: Curious bugs
Geographic location of the bug: South Africa, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Asbhurton
Time: 01:55 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi there. We have lived in Ashburton for almost two years and in that time have only ever seen one of the two bugs. We have never seen them before in our lives and no one knows what they are. They are both about 5-6cm in length and both have hard exterior. there are two pictures of the one and one of the other.
Do you know what they are?
How you want your letter signed: Amy Peacock
One of your beetles is a Ship Timber Beetle. According to Beetles in the Bush: “Placed in the family Lymexylidae (ship-timber beetles), species in this genus look less like beetles than they do large flying ants or strange damselflies due to their highly reduced elytra that expose their greatly elongated abdomen and leave the hind wings uncovered. The hind wings also are unusual in that they are held fan-like in repose rather than folded as in most other beetles. Atractocerus brevicornis is the only species in the genus found in Africa (Scholtz & Holm 1985).” Your other beetle is a Longicorn in the family Cerambycidae.
Letter 5 – Ship Timber Beetle from Mexico
Subject: Flying, wriggling bug?
Location: Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico
January 4, 2017 5:41 am
This bug was flying inside the house, Manzanillo, Colima, MX
3 January, sea level, temps in the mid-20s C. and tropical
Appeared after dark, flying near the ceiling, then later landed many times on the floor and wriggled like a snake with wings.
It wouldn’t hold still for a photo, so I gently clobbered him with a flipflop, so it’s a bit smooshed in the pictures.
Signature: SolMate Santiago
The first time we posted an image of a Ship Timber Beetle in the genus Atractocerus, we were quite confused as it is decidedly un-beetlelike in appearance.
Letter 6 – Ship Timber Beetle from Mexico
Subject: A Robber Fly ?
Geographic location of the bug: Yelapa, Mexico-about an hour south of Puerto Vallarta
Time: 09:09 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hello, This very loud buzzing insect was in my room at night. It flew with its head up and tail hanging down at the ceiling. It was chasing/harassing geckos. The geckos left my room for two nights following. I captured it to look at it and released it in the daylight. It flew straight up. I did not get a good daylight photo but here it is on my curtain in the early morning.
How you want your letter signed: Cody Sontag
This looks to us like a Ship Timber Beetle in the genus Atractocerus. According to Beetles in the Bush: “Placed in the family Lymexylidae (ship-timber beetles), species in this genus look less like beetles than they do large flying ants or strange damselflies due to their highly reduced elytra that expose their greatly elongated abdomen and leave the hind wings uncovered. The hind wings also are unusual in that they are held fan-like in repose rather than folded as in most other beetles.” The site continues: “Adults are attracted to light at night …. Nothing is known about the biology of Atractocerus, but larvae of other genera are reported to bore into hardwoods and palm stems (Picker et al. 2002). … The large eyes of Atractocerus, however, suggest a predatory lifestyle. The common name of the family originates from a northern European species that has in the past been a destructive pest of ship timbers.”
Letter 7 – Unknown Insect from Oman is Ship Timber Beetle
Location: Musandam, northern Oman
November 14, 2011 6:57 am
This insect can fly very swiftly as it did shortly after I photographed it, much to my surprise.
Signature: Keith Wilson
New mail was slow today, so we went back through our unanswered requests to find some interesting posts. Your photo has us quite intrigued as well as stumped. The head somewhat resembles a Stick Insect in the order Phasmidae, though the legs are quite short and there are no visible antennae. Something about this insect reminds us of the insects that have aquatic nymphs, though again we are not quite certain. Though it has been some time since you sent this request, can you provide us with any information on its size or the conditions under which it was seen, including terrain?
The insect was a beetle – a ship boring beetle, known as Atratocerus belonging to the family Lymexylidae. It was about 30 mm long. It was the second record for Arabia and may have come in on a wooden ship as it was found near a local fishing boat where there are lots of wooden dhows. The antennae are present but folded under the head.
Eric Eaton identifies Ship Timber Beetle
Trying this again. First time it never sent, or saved….
Happy holidays to you, too!
I am delighted that I can give the gift of this identification, especially when my initial thought was that this is a fly of some kind. I was literally off by several “orders” of magnitude! I still managed to find this blog post by my friend Ted MacRae. Turns out this is a beetle. I know! He has a nearly identical image, but good information to go with it:
Hope that helps. Take care.
Ed. Note: Here are a few quotes from Beetles in the Bush posting on this Ship Timber Beetle:
“One of the more unusual, and enigmatic, beetles that I encountered in South Africa was this beetle in the pantropical genus Atractocerus. Placed in the family Lymexylidae (ship-timber beetles), species in this genus look less like beetles than they do large flying ants or strange damselflies due to their highly reduced elytra that expose their greatly elongated abdomen and leave the hind wings uncovered. The hind wings also are unusual in that they are held fan-like in repose rather than folded as in most other beetles. Atractocerus brevicornis is the only species in the genus found in Africa (Scholtz & Holm 1985).”
“Atractocerus species are rarely encountered and therefore, not well studied. Their evolutionary history is still unknown; however, the oldest known lymexylid fossil is a very primitive member of the genus Atractocerus preserved in 100 myo Burmese amber (Grimwold & Engel 2005). Thus, the lineage containing these beetles had already appeared by the mid-Cretaceous and may have originated as early as the Jurassic, a fact that has earned them the moniker ‘living fossils.’ These beetles were once thought to be among the most primitive of all Coleoptera – their simple wing venation, almost undifferentiated antennae and tarsi, and naked abdomen being likened to a supposed neuropteran common ancestor.”
Letter 8 – What's That Bug???? Ship-Timber Beetle
Can’t even class this to Order!
Location: Caribbean coast, Costa Rica
May 12, 2011 12:25 pm
I just stumbled upon your page while trying to identify this insect that was buzzing around my room last night. It’s really bugging me (pardon the pun) that I, a biologist with basic Entomology skills, can’t even figure out what order this insect belongs to!
The insect is approximately 3cm in length. It has hardened forewings like a beetle, and chewing mouthparts as well, but the forewings are minuscule and don’t cover the hindwings at all. The eyes take up nearly the entire head. The antenna that remains (one is missing) may be damaged, so I can’t use them to help. And the abdomen is very long, roughly 9 segments, about one-third of which extend beyond the wings. It has no cerci or abdominal appendages.
I’m sorry I don’t have better images, the only macro capabilities I have are with a zoom lens. If you need more detail regarding a specific body part, I’d be happy to describe it for you.
Trying to identify North American species can often be quite difficult despite the comprehensive archives on BugGuide, however, once the unknown entity hails from the tropics, all bets are off since there are numerous families there that are not represented in temperate zones. We agree that the mouth parts and they elytra-like forewings seem to indicate that this may be some type of beetle, but we haven’t a clue as to its identity. The legs are not inconsistent with those of the beetles either We will try to contact Eric Eaton, but he is currently away, having traveled here to Los Angeles for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for the annual Bug Fair. We may see him tomorrow and we can direct him to this posting to see if he has any ideas. Meanwhile, our posting might lure some expert to weigh in with an identification.
It is truly a mystery. I’ve been living here for 4 years and have never seen one of these, and now I had another in my house last night, and it was nearly a centimeter larger. I am anxious to hear the verdict!
Karl’s identification supports mardikavana’s comment
Hi Daniel and Jennifer:
Your bizarre creature is indeed a beetle. It is a Ship-Timber Beetle (Lymexylidae) in the genus Atractocerus. This one appears to have an ovipositor which would make it a female. Here is one more image from flickr. Regards. Karl
Ed. Note: Here is one more link from the Museo Virtual de la Ciencia.
Thank you both so much! I am glad to hear that my hunch was correct!