Types of Scarab Beetles: A Friendly Guide to Identifying Varieties

Scarab beetles are fascinating creatures that come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. Some are well-known for their vibrant, metallic hues like the rainbow scarab, while others appear more drab. As you explore the world of scarab beetles, you’ll find that these insects are more than just their beautiful exteriors.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the different types of scarab beetles. From the industrious dung beetles to the large and strikingly-patterned Hercules beetles, there is an incredible diversity among this group. You’ll also learn about their intriguing habits and how they play essential roles in various ecosystems. So, let’s dive into the captivating world of scarab beetles and discover what makes them so unique.

Understanding Scarab Beetles

Scarab beetles belong to the family Scarabaeidae and are a diverse group of insects within the order Coleoptera. With a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes, there are more than 16,500 known species of scarab beetles worldwide. Some common features of scarab beetles include:

  • Oval or elongated shapes.
  • Stout, heavy bodies.
  • Rounded backs.
  • Clubbed antennae with fan-like tips.

As a part of the wider Arthropoda phylum and the Insecta class, these beetles exhibit various adaptations depending on their lifestyle. For example, their legs can be modified for digging, running, or grasping.

One fascinating species is the rainbow scarab, which stands out with its bright metallic green and copper colors. Another intriguing variety is the grape pelidnota, or spotted grapevine beetle, which can be found in wooded areas during the late spring and summer months.

The diets of scarab beetles within their diverse family can also vary greatly. Some species feed on plant material, while others prefer decaying organic matter. For instance, the rainbow scarab is a type of dung beetle that buries its food beneath a mass of feces.

In summary, as a part of the animal kingdom’s diverse Scarabaeoidea superfamily, scarab beetles showcase an incredible array of adaptations, appearances, and lifestyle characteristics.

Types of Scarab Beetles

Sacred Scarabs

Sacred scarabs are associated with the ancient Egyptian deity, Khepri. Their scientific name is Scarabaeus sacer, and they represent an important symbol in ancient Egyptian culture. These beetles are:

  • Medium-sized
  • Dull black or brown
  • Found in North Africa and Southern Europe

Dung Beetles

As the name suggests, dung beetles use dung for various purposes such as:

  • Food
  • Brood chamber for offspring

There are three main types of dung beetles:

  1. Rollers: Shape dung into balls and roll them away.
  2. Tunnelers: Bury the dung beneath the soil.
  3. Dwellers: Live in dung piles directly.

Dung beetles come in various sizes and colors, with some like the rainbow scarab displaying bright metallic green and copper hues.

June Beetles

Also known as June bugs, these beetles:

  • Are found in North America
  • Are active from late spring till summer
  • Feed on trees and plants

They come in colors like maroon, green, or brown.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are an invasive species native to Japan. They:

  • Feed on over 300 species of plants
  • Can be damaging to gardens and crops

These beetles are metallic green with copper-colored wings.

Hercules Beetles

Hercules beetles belong to the rhinoceros beetles group. They are known for:

  • Their large size (up to 7 inches)
  • Having horn-like structures
  • Strong, robust bodies

They feed mostly on decaying fruit and tree sap.

Other notable beetles

In addition to the mentioned types, the scarab beetle family includes various other species like longhorn beetles, fuller rose beetle, and mountain pine beetle, each with unique characteristics and habitats.

Scarabs in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt is known for its elaborate art, mythology, and symbolism. One of the most significant symbols in Egyptian culture is the scarab beetle. Often crafted as amulets and ornaments, scarabs hold great importance in Egyptian mythology and are commonly found in various forms such as stone, steatite, and gold.

In Egyptian culture, scarabs represent the concept of resurrection and the cycle of life. Egyptians believed that they had a strong connection with the sun, as the scarab’s habit of rolling dung into a ball was reminiscent of the sun’s movement across the sky. As a result, scarabs became a powerful symbol associated with the sun god, Ra.

Scarabs were often used as amulets, providing protection and guidance to both the living and the deceased. For example:

  • Heart scarabs: often placed on mummies and were believed to provide guidance during the journey to the afterlife
  • Winged scarabs: placed on the chest of the deceased, symbolizing rebirth and resurrection while protecting the heart

Scarabs also served as a form of jewelry and were used to commemorate important events or people. They were crafted from various materials, with stone, steatite, and gold being the most popular choices. The more luxurious materials, such as gold, were typically reserved for royalty and the upper class.

Carnelian scarabs, such as the one in the JHU Archaeological Museum, were also highly valued due to their stunning amber-orange color. These stones had lasting appeal and can still be admired today.

In conclusion, scarabs were an integral part of ancient Egyptian culture, representing protection, resurrection, and the cycle of life. Crafted in a variety of materials like stone, steatite, and gold, they hold a timeless allure and serve as a testament to the fascinating beliefs and customs of the Egyptian civilization.

The Beetle Ecosystem

In the world of scarab beetles, you’ll find them in diverse environments. These fascinating insects are found in forests, grasslands, and even deserts. Some of the most vibrant and beautiful species thrive in tropical rainforests.

You’ll find that scarab beetles interact with various inhabitants in their respective ecosystems. They have unique relationships with plants, animals, and other insects. For instance, many scarabs help in pollinating flowers while feeding on their nectar and pollen.

Scarabs create an important balance in the ecosystem by consuming decaying organic matter. They help recycle nutrients back into the soil, benefiting the environment as a whole.

The presence of scarab beetles is also valuable for livestock. Some scarab species, such as dung beetles, are crucial in breaking down animal waste, keeping grazing areas clean for livestock. This not only improves the quality of the pasture but also reduces harmful parasites and flies that breed in the waste.

Pros and cons of scarab beetles in ecosystems:

Pros:

  • Help in pollination of plants
  • Consume decaying organic matter
  • Break down animal waste, benefiting livestock

Cons:

  • Some species can be pests to certain crops and plants
  • Potential to spread plant diseases when feeding on multiple host plants

You might want to observe these fascinating insects in your own garden or while exploring a nearby forest. Remember, it’s important to respect their habitat and let them continue contributing their essential role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

Reproduction and Growth

Scarab beetles undergo a process called complete metamorphosis, which consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Let’s dive into these stages in more detail.

Egg stage: Female scarab beetles lay their eggs in soil, decomposing leaves, or dung, depending on the species. This provides a safe and nutritious environment for the eggs to develop.

Larva stage: Once the eggs hatch, the young larvae emerge, which are white, c-shaped grubs with six legs. They feed on organic matter, again depending on the species. This may include plant roots, decaying leaves, or dung. As the larvae grow, they go through multiple molts, shedding their exoskeleton each time to accommodate their increasing size.

Pupa stage: When the larva is fully grown, it forms a protective cocoon and enters the pupal stage. In this stage, the beetle undergoes a dramatic transformation, developing wings and an adult body.

Adult stage: Once the metamorphosis is complete, the adult beetle breaks out of its cocoon and emerges into the world. Adult scarab beetles have various colors and patterns, with some species displaying iridescent greens or shiny enamel-like exteriors.

Here are some characteristics of scarab beetles in bullet points:

  • Undergo complete metamorphosis
  • Female beetles lay eggs in a suitable environment
  • Larvae, or grubs, feed on organic matter
  • Pupal stage is a transformation period before adulthood

In conclusion, scarab beetles have a fascinating reproduction and growth process, passing through multiple stages of development before reaching their adult, final form. Their unique characteristics and wide variety of appearances make them an interesting group of insects to delve deeper into.

Feeding Habits

Scarab beetles exhibit a wide variety of feeding habits. Some species are known for consuming dung, while others prefer fungi, carrion, leaves, or fruits. Understanding these preferences can help you appreciate these fascinating insects.

Dung beetles, such as the rainbow scarab, are hardworking little creatures that feast on animal feces. You might be surprised to learn that they play an essential role in removing waste and recycling nutrients in ecosystems.

Fungi eaters like the earth-boring scarabs enjoy munching on mushrooms and other fungi. This diet choice makes them important decomposers in forest ecosystems.

Carrion feeders, as the name suggests, consume dead animal remains. Many scarab beetles, like the American burying beetle, contribute to breaking down carcasses.

Leaf-eating scarabs, such as the Japanese beetle, can be quite destructive to plants. As they feed on the leaves of various plants, they can cause significant damage, making them pests to gardeners and farmers.

On the other hand, fruit-eating scarab beetles like the grape pelidnota have a preference for feasting on grapes and other fruits. You can find them in wooded areas and sites next to these areas during the summer months.

In summary:

  • Dung eaters: Remove waste and recycle nutrients
  • Fungi eaters: Decompose mushrooms and fungi
  • Carrion feeders: Break down dead animal remains
  • Leaf eaters: Can cause plant damage
  • Fruit eaters: Consume grapes and other fruits

You can appreciate the diverse feeding habits of scarab beetles and the crucial roles they play in different ecosystems. With this knowledge, you can better understand the complex relationships among living organisms on our planet.

Scarab Beetles and Their Environment

Scarab beetles are a diverse group of insects, with their large family exhibiting a wide variety of appearances and habitats. In this section, we’ll discuss what environments these beetles thrive in and their interactions with other creatures.

Scarab beetles can adapt to a range of environments. They’re found in various habitats, from forests to grasslands. Here are some examples:

  • The Rainbow Scarab is a fantastic, metallic green and copper-colored dung beetle that buries its dung ball beneath the source material.
  • Hermit flower beetles are associated with rotting wood in trees, particularly oak, maple, elm, apple, cottonwood, cherry, and hickory.

These beetles perform a crucial role in their ecosystems by breaking down and recycling organic matter. They can be:

  • Fungivores: feeding on fungi
  • Herbivores: feeding on plants
  • Necrophages: feeding on dead animals
  • Coprophages: feeding on feces
  • Saprovores: feeding on decaying plant matter

In their environment, scarab beetles interact with various creatures, including ants. Ants often share the same ground-dwelling, digging, and burying behaviors that some species of scarab beetles exhibit. For example, the scarab beetles may live in the soil near an ant colony and both species can benefit from each other’s presence.

In conclusion, scarab beetles are incredibly diverse and play vital roles in their environments. Their adaptations allow them to inhabit various ecosystems and interact with other creatures, ultimately contributing to the overall health of their habitats.

Significance to Humans

Scarab beetles hold various roles in their interactions with humans. In some cases, they are considered pests; in other instances, they are associated with symbols of good luck, hope, and regeneration. Their striking appearance has also influenced jewelry designs closely tied to their cultural significance.

Certain types of scarab beetles can be harmful to crops and gardens in the United States; they may damage plant roots or feed on foliage. This makes them pests to farmers and gardeners alike. However, other scarab beetles, like the rainbow scarab, are beneficial as they help in breaking down animal waste, thus playing a vital part in the decomposition process.

Throughout history, scarabs have been closely linked to symbols of good luck, hope, restoration of life, and regeneration. This is especially true in ancient Egyptian culture, as scarab beetles were considered sacred and believed to possess powerful protective abilities.

In terms of aesthetics, scarab beetles display an astounding variety of shapes and colors. This has inspired the creation of jewelry and other decorative items featuring the intricate beauty of these insects. Their vibrant metallic hues are often replicated in these intricate designs, showcasing the stunning visual appeal of these beetles.

So, while interacting with scarab beetles, remember that they’re not only a potential threat to your plants but also a valuable part of the ecosystem and a symbol of good fortune across different cultures. The variety and beauty of these beetles continue to intrigue and inspire people all over the world.

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 – Odor of Leather Beetle

 

Subject:  What’s this beetle?
Geographic location of the bug:  Northern New Jersey, USA
Date: 07/01/2021
Time: 05:28 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  My cat found this Beetle on the floor in my house, can you help me ID it? Can’t say I’ve seen this one before. Thanks!
How you want your letter signed:  From Joshua Topp

Odor of Leather Beetle

Hi Joshua,
You did not mention if this beetle smelled like leather.  It looks to us like
Osmoderma eremicola which is pictured on BugGuide and which is commonly called the Odor of Leather Beetle because according to BugGuide it has a:  “strong odor of ‘Russian Leather'”.  The Odor of Leather Beetle was our Bug of the Month back in September 2015.

Odor of Leather Beetle

Letter 2 – Little Bear: Paracotalpa granicollis

 

Subject: Black & Maroon Fuzzy Beetle
Location: Carson City, NV
April 18, 2014 11:53 pm
Hi Bugman & crew! We took a mountain hike this afternoon & found this beauty. I’d say it was just under an inch long. Found him on a gorgeous 70-degree day in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern Nevada – Carson City, specifically. I’ve tried to search the web & your site for identification but every search wants it to be a velvet ant, which I know it’s definitely not! Thanks for your help!
Signature: Michelle Pedersen

Paracotalpa ursina
Paracotalpa granicollis

Dear Michelle,
You are correct.  This is not a Velvet Ant.  It is a Scarab in the subfamily Rutelinae, the Shining Leaf Chafers, and sadly, it does not have a common name, but we have identified it as
Paracotalpa ursina.  There is also an image on CalPhotos where it is identified as a Little Bear, a reference to its scientific species name.  The Sam Wells Bug Page has a nice account of an encounter with Little Bears near Fresno.

Correction:  Paracotalpa granicollis
Thanks to a comment from Gene St. Denis, we now know this is a different member of the same genus.

Letter 3 – May Beetle

 

Subject: Beetle or roach?
Location: Los Angeles, CA
June 8, 2014 12:05 am
Is this a brown beetle or a cockroach?
Signature: Howard

May Beetle
May Beetle

Dear Howard,
This Scarab Beetle is in the subfamily Melolonthinae whose members are commonly called May Beetles or Junebugs.  We will attempt to provide you with a species identification.  See BugGuide for more information on May Beetles.

Letter 4 – May Beetle

 

Subject: Unidentifiable beetle
Location: 25 miles south of Pueblo, near Greenhorn mountain
July 13, 2017 1:12 pm
Hello Bugman,
I took a picture of this beetle about 25 miles south of Pueblo, CO on a bit of sage. I have searched the internet and have not found any satisfactory match. Can you help?
Thanks!
Signature: Brent Evans

May Beetle

Hi Brent,
This is definitely a Scarab Beetle, and we believe it is a May Beetle in the subfamily Meloionthinae.  This image of
Dinacoma caseyi from BugGuide looks very similar, but it is only reported from California and according to BugGuide:  “Only known population occurs within the Palm Canyon Wash area in the southern part of the City of Palm Springs, Riverside County, California. The species is believed to occupy less than 800 acres of land. – FWS.”  Perhaps this is a close relative in the same genus or perhaps a related genus.  We will try to contact Artur V. Evans and Eric Eaton for assistance.

Eric Eaton responds.
Daniel:
Pretty sure this is Phyllophaga lanceolata, a type of May beetle that is pretty common in Colorado.  Looking forward to Art’s assessment.
Eric
author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America

Ed. Note:  We also received a response from Arthur V. Evans who provided a BugGuide link to confirm Eric’s identification.  According to BugGuide:  “Unlike most Phyllophaga, adults are diurnal. Females are flightless.”
Hi Daniel,

I am about to enter the photo in the Boulder County Fair.  I thought it might be useful to know what it was.
Many, many thanks again for your help in this matter.  I will save the info and cherish it!  If you can, please pass my thanks back up the line as well.
Kind regards,
Brent

Letter 5 – Monkey Beetle from South Africa, we believe

 

Johannesburg South Africa
March 12, 2012 7:21 am
Hi, love this website, it is so helpful. I have’nt found what I had hoped for though, and that is ID of this bug. I’m posting a front view, rear view (quite a cute looking face too) and a top view. This bug was deeply embedded (yep, that is the word i’ve gotta use) in a yellow flower and which I eventually managed to prize out, took some pics and then set it back where it was originally. This as taken in Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Roodepoort South Africa. I’d appreciate some help, as the best i’ve got so far is that it is….. Monkey beetle. A distant cousin say what?
Signature: Hi Noel

Monkey Beetle

Hi Noel,
We are certain that this is a Scarab Beetle, and we are relatively certain that you are correct in it being a Monkey Beetle in the tribe Hopliini.  We found a photo in our archives that we posted several years ago of a different species of Monkey Beetle and there is a very nice page on BioDiversity Explorer devoted to Monkey Beetles that states they are:  “Distinguished from other Scarabaeidae by the tarsal claws which, especially on the hindlegs, are unequally sized and movable. Larvae are known as white grubs, a term also used for larvae of the subfamily Melolonthinae. They feed on plant litter and plant roots in the soil, and can be serious pests of cultivated crops and lawns. The Hopliini beetles are the most diverse group of rutelines in southern Africa. Adults are often brightly coloured and hairy with large powerful hind legs and usually encountered in flowers.”  Finally, we found this photo on FlickR that looks very similar to your individual.

Monkey Beetle

Letter 6 – Odor of Leather Beetle

 

Subject: Large beetle-
Location: Lake Winnipesaukee– Moultonborough NH
August 21, 2016 5:12 pm
Found this guy on our deck today (August 21) on lake winnipesaukee in NH. Wondering what he is. He’s pictured here on my 11 year old’s hand. Set him on a branch of a bush and set him free. Any idea?
Signature: Linda

Odor of Leather Beetle
Odor of Leather Beetle

Dear Linda,
We love the common name Odor Of Leather Beetle, for
Osmoderma eremicola, due to, according to BugGuide:  “[a] strong odor of ‘Russian Leather’.”  It is also called a Hermit Flower Beetle.

Odor of Leather Beetle
Odor of Leather Beetle

Letter 7 – Odor of Leather Beetle

 

Name of a bug or beetle?
Location: NE Ohio
August 8, 2011 9:26 pm
Dear Bugman, I recently had a beetle or bug climbing on the inside of our screen and was able to capture and release it but was curious as to what type of beetle or bug it was. Can you help me identify it, please? Thanks for any help you can give!
Signature: Sherilyn Gisinger

Hermit Flower Beetle

Hi Sherilyn,
This is a Hermit Flower Beetle,
Osmoderma eremicola, though we much prefer its other common name, Odor of Leather Beetle, because, according to BugGuide, it gives off a “strong odor of ‘Russian Leather’.”

Thanks! I had never heard of or seen a beetle this large before and I appreciate the information! Now I’m off to research it a bit more now that I know what it is! 🙂  Sherilyn

Letter 8 – Pine Chafer from France

 

Subject: Big, friendly beetle
Location: Manosque, Haute Provence, France
July 15, 2016 1:53 pm
This bug kept flying into out cabin this evening in Manosque in Provence. Pound coin for scale. We’ve gently released it a few times but it keeps returning. Attracted by light. Children love it.
Signature: D. Mullen

Pine Chafer
Pine Chafer

Dear D. Mullen,
Your beetle is
Polyphylla fullo, commonly called a Pine Chafer.  According to NatureSpot, it is found:  “In and around pine woods especially on sandy soil but usually only encountered as a vagrant in Britain.”  This is one of the beetle species that is known for producing very audible sounds by rubbing body parts together, a process known as stridulation. 

Pine Chafer
Pine Chafer

Letter 9 – Pine Chafer from Italy

 

Subject: Speckled Italian Beetle
Location: Florence, Italy
June 27, 2014 3:13 pm
My boyfriend and I were on vacation in Florence, Italy when this bug on the sidewalk caught our eye. It didn’t seem appropriate to the environment (mostly just flies and mosquitos from what we could tell), and we’re wondering if perhaps someone’s pet escaped? It’s winged and scarab-like as you can see. Thanks for any help identifying this bug!
Signature: amico de Scarafaggio

Pine Chafer
Pine Chafer

Dear Amico,
You are astute to observe that this beetle is a Scarab, and it is also a native species.  We discovered its identity as a Pine Chafer,
Polyphylla fullo , thanks to the Beetle Fauna of Germany site where it states:  “It is known to occur in North Africa and Europe, in North to South Sweden, in the East to the Caucasus. The male exhibits a conspicuous enlarged antennal “fan”. The larval development in the soil on the roots of grasses and sedges takes 3 to 4 years. The adult beetles live in sandy habitats, e.g. sunny pine forests and dunes. They feed on pine foliage but do not cause economically relevant damage. In June and July the beetles swarm at dusk. With the exception of the Northeast, recent records are known from most Federal States. Polyphyllo fullo is regarded as endangered (RL 2) and is protected by the Federal Regulation for the Protection of Species (BArtSchV). ”  It is also pictured on NatureSpot where it states it is found:  “In and around pine woods especially on sandy soil but usually only encountered as a vagrant in Britain.”  It is also capable of stridulation, the ability to rub its body parts together to make a relatively loud sound. 

Letter 10 – PIne Chafer from Italy

 

Subject: Large Italian mystery beetle
Location: Lucignana, Tuscany, Italy
July 6, 2017 3:45 pm
Hi Dr Bugman,
Please could you help me identify my mystery beetle? We found it in the Tuscan countryside just north of Lucca. It was very dead already with the entire thorax eaten by ants, so we brought it home and framed it. As you do. However I’ve googled the crap out of it and can’t find anything like it. It would be really great to give it a name. It is about 40mm long and when found had its wings half out. They were the usual translucent grey of most beetles. It has no hairs protruding off the carapace but it may have had antennae before the ants got to it.
Thanks for your help!
Kind regards,
Signature: Beth

Pine Chafer

Dear Beth,
This impressive Scarab Beetle is a Pine Chafer,
Polyphylla fullo, a species found in much of Europe.  Alamy has some beautiful images of Pine Chafers, and the species has even appeared on a postage stamp in Czechoslovakia that is pictured on the Colnect site.  Males Pine Chafers have very impressive antennae.

PIne Chafer

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 – Cowboy Beetle from Australia

 

Subject: What IsThis Bug?
Location: Melbourne, Australia
January 4, 2013 9:58 pm
Hello,
Today my family and I came out into the back yard to find my dogs playing with a beetle which we have never come across before, unfortunately they killed it, but we were still curious as to what kind of beetle it is?
It would great if you could help us identify it. 🙂
The season is currently Summer, this beetle has appeared during a streak of hot weather, and we live in a busy suburban area.
Signature: Roberta

Cowboy Beetle

Hi Roberta,
Even through the plastic bag, we could tell this was a Scarab Beetle and though we did not recognize the species, we quickly identified it as a Cowboy Beetle,
Chondropyga dorsalis (Diaphonia dorsalis), on the Brisbane Insect website.  The website states:  “This beetle is commonly seen flying around very fast during day time in shrubs early summer in Brisbane. It is yellowish-brown in colour with a black stripe on the middle. Its body is relatively flatten. The beetle feeds on nectar.”  The Animal a Day website in the January 10, 2012 posting states:  “They can be found in southwestern Australia, inhabiting mostly forested areas and residential gardens. They are not considered to be a pest, even though they can spend their entire lives in one backyard.  As larvae, the Cowboy Beetles feast on rotting things, like dead wood and compost. Their eggs are actually laid in the rotting logs so that when the larvae hatch they have something to eat right away. Then then use that same material to construct their pupae.  As adults, Cowboy Beetles have a taste for food that is a bit more palatable to us non-rotten-debris eaters. They feed on the nectar of various flower species, and they use their newly acquired wings to move from different shrubs and bushes.  Their gold and black coloration actually helps them to avoid predators. When in flight they resemble the far more dangerous Wasp!”  Project Noah also has some wonderful images of the Cowboy Beetle.

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.

6 thoughts on “Types of Scarab Beetles: A Friendly Guide to Identifying Varieties”

    • Yes, they have awesome insects in Australia, and they always arrive when there is a dearth of interesting posts from North America. During the winter months other than letters that come from places like Florida, Texas and California, our North American identification requests tend to be confined to household pests and critters that hibernate like Western Conifer Seed Bugs.

      Reply
  1. Michelle and Ladies and Gentlemen , You have a perfect specimen of Paracotalpa granicollis ! Cheers! Gene St. Denis Sierra Nevada Research

    Reply

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