Hailing from the order Coleoptera is the mighty but annoying beetle, that many know and hate. Distinctively recognized by their pair of front wings and hard exoskeletons of various colors, the beetle is one of the most well known insects of our day. Beetles can be found in almost every corner of the earth (except for Antarctica), and are generally left alone until they start to head indoors and become a nuisance to many. Detailed below are all the facts you need to know about beetles, to ensure they not only get out, but stay out of your home permanently.
What are beetles?
With over four hundred thousand (400.000) different species, beetles form the largest order of insects worldwide, and tend to survive in most habitats, including underground, in plants or even near coastlines and freshwater. Though easily confused with other bugs, beetles have distinct characteristics that differentiate them from other insects. One of the most distinguishable characteristics are their hard forewings that are folded underneath to protect their less formidable flying wings. This is a significant distinguishing character for beetles, that highlights the order that they belong to, as the name “Coleoptera” translates to “folded wing” in English. There are other bugs that appear to have this same characteristic, but more often than not, these bugs contain only partly hardened wings. Another way to identify beetles is by looking at the mouth area. Beetles tend to have mouth parts that chew, while true bugs tend to pierce or suck at their prey.
There are many different types of beetles present on earth, with approximately four hundred thousand different species scattered throughout each continent. The order is so large and varied that it contains four suborders for the different types of beetles that are known. These four suborders are called:
- Adephaga – this order contains the second largest number of beetles worldwide with about 40.000 different species.
- Archostemata – this is the smallest order of beetles, containing just 50 known species organized into five different families.
- Myxophaga – this order is the second smallest and contains just sixty five known species of beetles.
- Polyphaga – this is the largest and most distinguished order of beetles, comprising over 300.000 different species, and 90% of the beetle population that we know today. It contains about 144 different families, and about 16 superfamilies of beetles.
What do beetles look like?
Beetles vary in body structure based on their genre, but most beetles have the same makeup that easily characterizes them as beetles. They usually have a head, thorax, abdomen and antennae, and are usually easily identified by their hard exoskeleton and forewings. Each section of the body usually serves a different purpose for the benefit of the beetle’s body. These features are listed below.
A beetle’s head is usually easily identified by their compound eyes and a distinct mouth that is used to chew their food. Their head also contains their antennae, which is also another distinct organ of the beetle. This antennae is used mainly as a sensory organ to help detect different odors, some chemical substances and even movement, but its main job is to detect a beetle’s environment quickly. This is necessary as it really helps in certain species of beetles that may be unable to see very clearly with their eyes. Because of this, they rely heavily on their antennae for a sense of direction. Antennae vary greatly among different species of beetles, but they generally appear to be threadlike, toothed, angled, clubbed and sometimes shaped like a string of beads. This variation helps when identifying different types of beetles.
A beetles thorax is generally identified as the area between the head and the legs, and is divided into the pro- and pyothorax. The prothorax houses a fusion of the meso and metathorax, which slightly emanate from the prothorax. The thorax is followed by the abdomen, which houses further segmentation of the body. It is important to note that although the thorax appears to be segmented into three clear sections, it is not. Instead, the middle section contains the pronotum which is a hard plate, covering only the front area of the thorax.
While mostly used for walking by many species, some beetles use their legs for swimming as they have been adapted for different things by different species. Beetles normally have multi segmented legs that end in small segments called tarsi, and claws like many other insects. In species where beetles have used their legs for swimming, some beetles have rows of long hair, while in other species, some beetles have fossorial legs which have been widened and sometimes spined for digging.
An important thing to note is that the beetle’s forewings are not normally used for flight, but are used as part of a protective cover for the hindwings which are actually used to fly. These form the elytra, which are usually very hard and thick in most species, except for species such as soldier beetles that have soft wings. While all beetles have wings, some beetles have lost their ability to fly, including many ground beetles.
Do beetles bite and what are the symptoms?
Of all the species of beetles in the world, humans are actually known to eat about three hundred and forty (340) species on a regular basis. But do beetles bite back? The short answer is yes. Though beetles are generally very docile insects, they do have the physical makeup that would allow them to bite if necessary. Specifically, certain species of beetles have well developed mandibles that allow them to easily catch and consume their prey, while some species use it to consume wood and plants. Of the beetles that are physically capable of biting, only a few of these species actually bite or sting humans.
Beetle species that bite
When a human gets bitten by a beetle, it is normally as a result of some unintentional contact between the two parties, and usually only occur if beetles feel threatened or attacked. This type of behavior is rare in most beetles, but when it does happen, it occurs with these three specific species.
These types of beetles are normally found mostly in the eastern and central United States, as well as in tropical destinations such as the Caribbean or Mexico. They normally feed on plants and are generally drawn to areas that contain lights, making them fond of gardens, front yards and patios where they may run into humans. An in-depth look at the Blister Beetle, however, shows that though they are physically capable of biting, their mandibles are in no way strong enough to inflict any actual pain on a human.
So why is this insect known as the “Blister Beetle”? The short answer is this: Although these beetles cannot cause pain by biting, they have another defense mechanism that can inflict pain on any threat. Blister beetles contain a substance called hemolymph that is present in almost all insects, but the difference with the Blister Beetle is that their hemolymph contains cantharidin which is an irritant substance that causes a blister on humans when it comes in contact with the skin. So the answer is no, Blister Beetles technically do not bite, but when threatened, they do sting.
These beetles are normally easily identified by their black to dark brown mandibles, which are usually distinctively large. With this specie however, male beetles do not have the same makeup as the female beetle, which makes them incapable of inflicting any actual pain to humans. The females however have all the strength. Female stag beetles have strong jaws that can cause painful bites, but fortunately, these do not usually require medical treatment.
Easily identified by their unusual but distinctly long antennae, this specie of beetle also has a history of biting humans. Longhorned Beetles generally feed on wood such as firewood, that have a high content of moisture. There are also certain species of the Longhorned Beetle that prefer to feed on pollen, leaves and nectar. A bite by the Longhorned Beetle can inflict a significant level of pain that could even last for a day or two, but usually subsides after that.
An important thing to consider is that beetle bites are normally painful but not necessarily dangerous to humans, unless the person bitten has an allergic reaction to the bite. Most beetle bites will cause a noticeable welt on the area of the skin that was bitten, along with some amount of pain, but that is normally the only symptom present. If the person bitten has more severe symptoms, they should see a doctor immediately, as they may be having an allergic reaction.
Are beetles dangerous?
Beetles are generally very docile pests outside of their ability to bite and sting when disturbed. These insects normally live peacefully with most humans, and are often not even noticed unless encountered. There are a few species however that may not be necessarily dangerous, but possibly harmful.
Perhaps one of the most dangerous conditions or symptoms caused by the beetle is when a person is run by the Blister Beetle and cantharidin is present. In this case, the cantharidin causes swelling and welting of the skin but normally stops at that. There have been cases however where the person that has been bitten uses the same hand to rub sensitive areas such as the eyes without realizing it. This leads to conjunctivitis, which occurs when cantharidin is exposed to the sensitive tissue in the eye, and is very common in Africa, landing it the nickname “The Nairobi Eye.”
Another way that beetles can be harmful is when Carpet Beetles come in contact with humans over a prolonged period of time, or they lay eggs in human food. The hair fibers on the body of the Carpet Beetle larvae tends to cause a bumpy, itchy and irritating rash when encountered for a long period of time. There are also airborne fibers that may cause eye irritation and respiratory tract issues, but these conditions normally develop after being exposed to these fibers for years. The main issue however occurs when Carpet Beetles get into the home, and generally live in the walls. They normally move beyond the walls to lay their eggs in areas that are more fertile, and where larvae will have access to food. These includes areas such as silk sheets, blankets or other types of clothing. In order to prevent this from happening, ensure that there are no Carpet Beetles flying around in your home, as this is usually the first sign of an infestation.
Signs of a beetle infestation
Because there are so many species of beetles, different types may leave different signs of infestation. This is why it is important to research and understand the type of beetle that is most likely in or around your home before taking action to get rid of it. The good news however, is that many beetles have similar telltale signs of their presence, both in minimal and maximum capacities, so recognizing the different signs of an infestation should not be too difficult. Detailed below are some of the most popular signs of a beetle infestation that can be used to identify most species of beetles.
- Perhaps the most obvious sign of a beetle infestation is seeing beetles in and around your home. It is one thing to see a beetle flying around once every six months, but it is a completely different situation when you encounter a beetle in your home every other day. This is the clearest indication of a beetle infestation, and you will need to take action very quickly before it gets worse. This would mean identifying the area where the infestation has taken place, and taking preventative measures to ensure the beetles stay outside.
- Another clear indication of a beetle infestation is to take a look at the tree barks in your yard. For people that live in the forest or countryside, this is the most obvious sign of a beetle infestation. The bark on these trees must be examined for the presence of pitch tubes or boring dust. Pitch tubes are big white globs that stick to the side of a tree trunk. They have an appearance similar to popcorn, and are naturally occurring substances that happen as a result of a tree aiming to expel the presence of the beetle. Pitch tubes work when the tree produces resin as a beetle is trying to bore in its bark, and successful attempts will often show a beetle captured inside this glob.
Boring dust is a bit different. Boring dusts are small mounds of sawdust that can be found on or around a tree as beetles bore into it. This dust generally has a dark reddish brown color, and normally has the feel of flour.
- For other species of beetles, signs of infestation vary based on their interests. Fabric beetles for example, are normally found in warehouses where there are lots of fabric. They are mostly present in Eastern countries such as India, and are normally identified after the infestation has been happening for a long period of time. They are usually found in warehouses that are dark, and are not cleaned properly, with a high possibility of these beetles being presents in fabrics such as linen and wool, and maybe even some carpets. Other beetles such as grain beetles are found in grains like rice or wheat, and may take longer to discover because they are small. Because these species are generally specific to certain areas, be sure to find information on the specie that has infested your home.
Why you may have a beetle problem
Beetles are interesting creatures, with most species attracted to simple things such as light and a beautiful garden, but there are reasons apart from your natural environment that may be why you have a beetle problem. The first thing is something many people cant even imagine. Many beetles are attracted to moisture, especially in warm times and areas. Like most other pests, beetles need water and moisture to live and reproduce. If your house has any roof leaks or excess humidity during hot times such as during summer or even in a drought, this provides adequate moisture for beetles, causing them to venture indoors. This may be the first reason why you have a beetle problem.
The second reason could simply be because you leave trash bins open, or food uncovered. Beetles love garbage, and more than that, beetles love rotten fruit and vegetables. The reason you may have a beetle problem could simply be because you have an abundance of rotten food left in and around the house. This gives the beetle a food source, which will keep them coming back, and may even cause an infestation. Another point to make from this is that beetles don’t distinguish between different types of food, and they especially do not take time to differentiate between the food in your trash can and the food on your kitchen counter. This allows them to not only transfer bacteria from one place to the other, but to also swarm your food, leading to an even bigger problem than before.
These simple things can cause your home to be swarming with beetles in no time, so it is best to check for any small items in your house that may make beetles feel more at home. Simple hygienic practices such as closing the trash bin could go a long way in preventing you from having a beetle infestation.
How to get rid of beetles
Whether you’re suffering from an infestation of Japanese beetles in your home garden, or see an increase in carpet beetles that have migrated indoors, there are a couple of techniques that apply to most of these species. In order to successfully rid your environment of the beetle infestation, you must first recognize the specific type present and understand its life cycle. After this, you can implement tactics from the list below to get rid of the beetles, once and for all. While specific species may need specific tactics, this list will give you a head start on your beetle eradication process.
1. Using herbs and essential oils
We’ve heard time and again that specific herbs and essential oils help to rid our homes of many pests, beetles included. Neem oil specifically, has been proven to eradicate a whole family of beetles by the way it works. Neem oil contains a substance known as potassium bicarbonate that is toxic to beetles and many other insects. When beetles ingest the neem oil, it will kill them, but not before allowing them to pass it on to their larvae, taking them all out in a shorter period of time. To use neem oil to get rid of beetles, simple mix equal parts of neem oil and water in a spray bottle, and spray the substance in spaces that beetles frequently visit, both indoors and outdoors.
Garlic is another herb that is very helpful for repelling beetles and other pests. The scent of garlic keeps beetles at a safe distance, ensuring that your home stays beetle free. To use garlic as a beetle repellent, simply soak 2 cloves in a carrier oil such as olive oil or almond oil overnight. Shake well and spray on areas where beetles frequently visit indoors, or on specific plants outdoors.
2. Be mindful of the type of plants in your yard
If you’re not a farmer, or are not seriously attached to any of the plants in your yard, you may have to rethink your choice of landscaping options. Beetles are more attracted to certain plants such as rose bushes, raspberry vines and even certain beans. These plants may be the reason your yard or home is full of beetles, and this problem will not be solved until you get rid of these plants.
3. Use chemical insecticides/pesticides
Your next best option would be to go searching for an effective pesticide to spray these beetles away. While pesticides are less popular these days, they are still very effective, and can be a fast and easy way to get rid of beetles. A quick search online would provide you with some of the best pesticides on the market, from which you can take your pick.
Beetles are interesting little creatures, and are normally okay when they come around once a year, but when this gets too frequent, it’s easy to get annoyed. More sooner than later, they start buzzing around every morning, boring through the tree in the backyard, and swarming the trash bag. So how do we prevent them from taking over? Here are some tried and true methods for beetle prevention, that are not only very simple, but highly effective.
Use organic and plant based remedies in/around your home
While neem oil and garlic are effective in getting rid of beetles once they have infested the home, they also join the long list of herbs and essential oils that help to keep all pests at bay. Simply switching from store bought dish soap to your own baking soda and essential oil mix will not only save you lots of money, but also prevent pests from dwelling in your home. A simple mixture of equal parts baking soda, natural soap, neem oil and water will give you your own do-it-yourself dish soap that will keep your dishes glistening clean and repelling insects at the same time. There goes your win-win situation.
Get rid of their food supply
While beetles are pretty persistent pests, it’s impossible for them to feel comfortable in an area where there is a lack of one of their most pressing basic needs, food. The best way to prevent beetles from infesting your home is to reduce the amount of food they are exposed to. This means limiting the amount of food left on kitchen counters or tables, including crumbs, and properly disposing of garbage. Beetles love rotting food, especially rotting fruits and vegetables, so ensure trash cans and bins are properly covered to limit their exposure to food.
There you have it, a number of foolproof ways to get rid of beetles and keep your home beetle-free. Beetles don’t normally have a bad reputation when it comes on the pest discussion, but if they are the nuisance in your home, these tactics will get rid of them for sure.