Friday 5: Arizona’s Amazing Beetles

Welcome to another Friday 5!  My state is one of the best places in the country to collect insects and people are known to come from all over the world to improve their insect collections here.  I have some AMAZING insects in my collection, ones that are widely known to be among the most beautiful or most spectacular of all insects.  These are my 5 favorite Arizona beetle species:

5. The palo verde beetle or palo verde root borer, Derobrachus hovorei:

palo verde beetle

Palo verde beetle, Derobrachus hovorei

This beetle is amazing due largely to its size and its fierce demeanor.  These things are huge, about 3 inches long, and are among the biggest beetles in the country.  They’re so big, in fact, that they don’t fly well at all.  I find the majority of these beetles by sound when I hear them crashing into walls, fences, bushes, etc!  See those big mouthparts in the front?  These beetles will use them to fight with other palo verde beetles – and they’re not above waving both those and the spikes on the thorax about to intimidate you.  You probably don’t want to be unfortunate enough to let one get a hold of your fingers either.  Still, I adore these!  They’re impressive beetles and they’ve always been one of my favorites.  I’ll write a whole post about these eventually.

4. The sunburst beetle, Thermonectus marmoratus

sunburst beetle

The sunburst beetle, Thermonectus marmoratus. Image from

This is my favorite aquatic beetle!  It’s not the biggest (they’re about half an inch long) and it’s not the most unique as far as behavior or habitat goes.  It’s certainly not the most uncommon as it’s all over southern Arizona in abundance.  However, I think this beetle is gorgeous.  They’re predaceous diving beetles (family Dytiscidae), so they are phenomenal swimmers.  If you haven’t seen one of these gliding through the water… well, you’re missing out!  And, these beetles have the ability to float nearly motionless in the middle of the water column, which most aquatic insects are unable to do.  Between their curvaceous shape, their stunning looks, and their serene movements, this one easily makes my list of the 5 most amazing Arizona beetles.

Quick aside: I love these beetles so much that I planned to have them swimming in bowls of water at my wedding.  People use goldfish in bowls at weddings all the time, so why not sunburst beetles?  They have a lovely calming and elegant appearance that is just right for a casual, outdoor, spring wedding by a lake.  I was quite pleased with myself for coming up with something so creative, yet so appropriate for my wedding and personality.  However, two close relatives (the kind I couldn’t have a wedding without) were vehemently opposed to having live insects near them at the wedding and threatened not to come if I went through with it.  So, I didn’t have any sunburst beetles at my wedding. You’d think the relatives of entomologists would be a little more tolerant of insects.  Sigh…

3. Chalcolepidius ostentus

Chalcolepidius ostentus

Chalcolepidius ostentus (let’s call it, oh, the metallic click beetle)

These beetles are stunning!  Metallic blues and greens, big, and surprisingly hard to find among the trees they like to sit ins.  Honestly, I don’t know much about these beetles beyond knowing where I collected the 2 in my personal collection and knowing that they’re click beetles so they have the normal click beetle associated behaviors.  I’ve had a hard time finding information about them and they don’t appear to even have a common name!  But the joy you feel upon coming across one of these in southern Arizona is indescribable.  For that reason, they make my top 5 list.

2. Grant’s Hercules beetle, Dynastes granti

Dynastes granti

Grant’s Hercules beetle, Dynastes granti

Like the palo verde beetles, these rank among the biggest beetles in the United States.  This particular species is one of three found in North America and it’s only found in the 4 Corners states and northern Mexico.  It’s reasonably common in Arizona and is often collected at blacklights around the state.  As with most insects that have those super long horns, the males of these species get into some pretty intense battles over females.  The winner  scores the gal!  Now that I think of it, I actually don’t have a single Dynastes granti in my collection…  I need to fix that sometime!

And finally, 1. Chrysina gloriosa, the glorious scarab

Chrysina gloriosa

Chrysina gloriosa. Photo by John Abbott and from

This beetle’s name says it all: the glorious scarab.  Chrysina gloriosa (also commonly known by its former name Plusiotis gloriosa) is quite glorious!  It’s bright, apple green with metallic bronze highlights and thick metallic silver stripes down the elytra.  This is one of the most beautiful beetles you could ever encounter and will simply take your breath away if you are lucky enough to see a live one.  However, this beauty comes with a cost.  Because they are so exquisite, these are highly prized beetles.  When collectors find them, a strange hoarding mentality often overcomes them.  There’s a suspicion among some entomologists in my area that this is going to eventually lead to significant declines in the populations of these beetles.  They may be collected to near extinction in time!  Many of the collectors in my state have one or two of these beetles in their collections and leave the rest alone to help conserve these beetles for future generations.

I’ll finish up with one quick note about the image of this beetle.  I recently came across John Abbott’s photography online and found the image above in his beetles gallery.  The man is amazing!  His photographs will leave you speechless.  I encourage you to check them out.

Next week: 5 artists whose insect work I adore.  Let’s get some cultural entomology on!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2010


75 thoughts on “Friday 5: Arizona’s Amazing Beetles

  1. Pingback: Friday 5: Arizona’s Amazing Beetles

  2. Those palo verde beetles are weird. I always assumed that when they came around, they were a few hours away from death. They crash into your wall at night, can’t seem to right themselves or even walk around, and are usually found dead by morning. How long do they live in their adult form? Every one I have ever seen seems to be dead or dying.

    • I asked the collection curator in my department, who is my go-to guy for all Sonoran Desert terrestrial insect questions, and he said he thinks they only live a few weeks as adults. They don’t feed as adults, so this seems reasonable to me. This could also be why they don’t fly very well. Flight requires a lot of energy and these beetles can’t replenish their stores by eating like most other insects do.

    • They’re big, yes. Scary looking, yes. Have a strong bite, yes. Otherwise, these beetles are pretty wimpy. They’re almost too big and they bumble around both when they walk and when they fly. If you happen to see one swerving around in the air, it’s quite comical. They look like they’re drunk! It actually diminishes their scary factor quite a bit. :)

  3. Wow. Who knew that people collected beetles to the point that some of them nearly went extinct? I learned a lot reading your post. Well done – and congrats on being pressed.

    P.S. I am with your relatives – no bugs on the table at a wedding, sorry. :)

  4. Loved the post and photos. I was at the Phoenix Zoo with my 21-year-old son yesterday, who still takes great delight in showing me the many live beetles on exhibit in this amazing wildlife habitat and human hang-out. Thanks for upping my BQ–beetle quotient! –Lynn Trimble, “Stage Mom” blogger for “Raising Arizona Kids” magazine.

    • I’ve actually never been to the Phoenix Zoo, so I wasn’t aware they had beetles in a display. I’ll have to drive up and check it out sometime! Fun.

  5. who would have thought there were so many different types of beetles. that pale one with huge horns looks crazy, i could imagine if that was huge and used for transportation. like an elephant.

    • With over 100,000 described species, beetles are the most speciose and diverse group of animals on the planet! They range in size from 0.1mm to nearly 5 inches long and live in nearly every habitat except the ocean. There is an AMAZING variety of body shapes and sizes, ornamentations, feeding modes, etc in beetles. The weevils alone have over 40,000 described species, almost as many species as all of the vertebrates (humans, dogs, cakes, snakes, birds, rodents, fish, etc) combined! In essence, beetles rock. :)

  6. Umm it is also found in georgia. I was visiting my family there and during the late day we found the exact beetle that looks like a rhino. That very large yellowish one with black dots. It must also originate in Georgia also. I have a picture of it.

    • There’s a closely related species in your part of the country that looks nearly the same! Yours should be Dynastes tityus, the eastern hercules beetles. And most of the beetles on my list are found in other states in addition to AZ. We just happen to have a lot of very showy beetles in AZ and I wanted to showcase some of the ones I love!

  7. Excellent post. Disappointingly where I live it’s all a bit cold for bugs now, but I love beetles, they really are very beautiful creatures. My recent love had been spiders… have a look if you have a moment :)

    • I am somewhat ambivalent toward spiders. A few of them really bother me and I LOVE the jumpers, but the rest are just kinda there. There are thousands around the aquatic habitats where I work, so I’m around spiders all the time – I just don’t know much about them. Someday…

  8. ilğinç bir sayfa ilk defa rasladım böceklerle aram biraz soguktur palo verde böcegine ilk defa gördüm veya hatırlayamadım .yemek tarifi sitesini dolaşırken buraya geldim aynı bir böcek gibi san ki her an arkamda ev sayibi elin de metal ezicisiyle soğuk bir alan ama kapıyı aralayıp araştırmasan da olmuyor iyi çalışmalar.

    • Aw, but you call yourself sunflower diva (there are tons of insects associated with the sunflower group!) AND you have a butterfly at the top of your blog. How can you say you’re not into insects? :) No, I totally understand. Lots of people have a strong distaste for bugs. That’s the whole purpose of my blog – to bring people and insects together in a non-threatening way, to teach people about some of the many amazing things that insects do and the myriad ways they contribute to our world. You claim not to be a bug person, but you liked at least one of the beetles I included. I therefore consider the post a success! :)

  9. Wow, their totally gorgeous!. I have never seen anything like this in England. Fascinating creatures. It’s so strange that Scarab beetle is residing in the United States, it look so exotic. America has some fantastic wildlife.

  10. I live in Arizona and I think we have WAY too many beetles. Thanks for sharing what all the different species are, though. I will be sure to add this to my cache of trivia-type knowledge to share the next time I find myself on a hike ;)

  11. Ewww! Good for you finding the beauty in them, I just get the creeps! Maybe you should have written this for Halloween! Now if you are talking Butterflies, I can relate! I love, love love them~! I think they are beautiful! I guess beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  12. I think they’re gorgeous. Now the mosquito that is still inhabiting my bedroom, that little bugger…

    I haven’t said this yet, and it is way overdue. Congratulations on your wedding. Who is the lucky fella?
    I think the beetles in bowls would have been perfect. Wish I’d thought of that. Perhaps we need to have a little get together and belated celebration of your nuptials with a bowl of beetles.

    • Ha ha! I would be all for celebrating over a bowl of beetles. But perhaps coffee or something might be better? I’d love to get together sometime! It’s been ages since I’ve seen you.

      Glad you like the beetles! But then, you liked most of the aquatics, so a few pretty beetles certainly aren’t going to put you off. :)

    • Well, there are scientific reasons that people would want to kill a few insects. For one, collections give us a lot of information. We can say a lot about climatic shifts, local events, etc based on which insects occur in which areas at specific times and we can track the movements of insect species over time. Lots of collectors simply want to have them in their collection. While I don’t have an issue with people collecting a few insects here and there (and in general, adult insects don’t usually live very long), I DO have a huge problem with people who collect hundreds of the same thing to sell, or simply to hoard them. Hoarding is a big issue among collectors of all sorts, but I think it’s particularly pernicious when it involves living organisms as opposed to, say, Depression era Fiesta Ware. So far, there doesn’t appear to be an issue with the numbers of Chrysina gloriosa that are in the wild. Indeed, on a good night with a blacklight in the right place, you might see hundreds of these! But, as insect displays become more popular, more people start selling insect specimens online, and people start collecting lots of them for non-scientific reasons – well, then there could be a problem. Like I said: some entomologists are concerned that this beetle could become threatened over time due to their huge popularity. Not all of them would agree. I obviously fall into the former camp. Why take the risk of destroying an entire species, you know?

      • I think transgressivecinema meant, why do people go, “Eww, a bug!” and step on any insect they see? I can understand scientists’ and collectors’ motivations, although as you said, we don’t want to wipe out the species. I can’t understand the step-on-any-insect-you-see motivation.

        • I think the “step-on-any-insect-you-see” motivation comes from fear and loathing – which similarly plagues serpents. I agree, blogs that help educate others about insects, arachnids, reptiles, etc, can really help to replace fear and loathing with respect and appreciation.

  13. Nice stuff. Personnaly, even though its not an insect per say, the most stunning small-critter I ever saw, is a pillbug that was completely Red, instead of grey. It really stood out among its grey friends and I never saw such a thing again.

    I was a kid back then and I don’t know why I did not pick it up… Good thing because if it was a mutation, it may have had a chance to pass on some interesting genes.

  14. So have you ever been to the Montreal Insectarium in Canada? It’s a must-see for the beetle lover. You need at least a full day there to take it all in. I’ve seen museums the world over, and I’m not that big on bugs, but I do think this (along with the new Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix) is one of the world’s greatest museums to feature a single type of “art” object. Time for a road trip, perhaps…

  15. Creepy, interesting, informative, and a bit over the top for those of us not collecting insects! I found #1 and #3 as beautiful as you did, but I would feel itchy if I went to a wedding and you saw #4 on the tables.

    Congrats on being freshly pressed. Keep up the blogging.

  16. this was a very interesting read. We have a family friend in New Zealand who is a retired entomologist and has interesting tales about the bugs there.

    I hope the scarab beetle is left alone, and I can see why you’re worried. Is there some sort of program that can be set up for them? Or would it be too hard to enforce?
    And as a former wedding decorator, I would have loved to have seen beetles on the table. They would have lasted longer than goldfish and you would just keep little lids on the bowls to stop them from flying out!

  17. Is it just me or do they not look err well, horrible!

    Sorry, the pics are fantastic but the beetles look terrifying. I think I’ll stick to Zebras.
    Not keen on spiders either !!!!!

    Great Information and pics though ( shiver ) :-)

  18. I dislike arachnids (because they creep me out, esp. spiders), wasps (because they never leave you alone to enjoy a picnic), and flies (because they can carry disease), and creepy-crawlies in general do nothing for me… but somehow beetles manage to look pretty damn cool. The benefits of a funky shiny exoskeleton, I guess. :)

    Fun post; well done on Freshly Pressed!

  19. Nice to see an entomology blog post freshly pressed :).

    I’m a zoologist at heart and by degree … so I love learning about the species around me. I’ve never really stopped and looked at the beetles in my area, but I can see the beauty in the Arizona beetles for sure from your descriptions.

    I can’t believe you didn’t go through with your sunburst beetle idea for your wedding … very clever and from your descriptions I can only imagine it would have been gorgeous.

    Thanks for posting something so unique.

  20. As an organic gardener I’m not usually a big fan of beetles because most of them chew on my plants. I prefer spiders, wasps, lizards and bees. However, as long as I never find it gnawing my collards, I’m willing to grant the sunburst beetle is a cute little bug. As bugs go. And that picture of the scarab-wow!
    When it comes to decorating with bugs, might I make a suggestion? Next time don’t tell anyone. Just put the bowls on the table and let them figure it out for themselves. It’s easier to ask forgiveness than get permission.

  21. I grew up in Arizona as a youth I wasn’t much interested in beetles but the bug that fascinated me was the tarantula wasp. Now that I live in Michigan some of the spiders are really fascinating such as Orb Weavers. We had one in our front yard the granddaughters wanted me to kill it. I put the kibosh on that and told them how helpful spiders were so we watched it catch renew its web grow and one day left.

  22. Congratulations on beng freshly pressed by WordPress!

    I’m voting for the sunburst beetles on the wedding table. Far more authentic and “you” than generic goldfish. Plus, they’re incredibly cute!

  23. That was a fun post, gorgeous pictures. I’ve always been fond of insects…well…spiders (which are technically Aracnids not insects I know) but never enough to collect them. This almost makes me want to…if only I had more time, or another me, to devote to hobbies. Maybe I could clone myself…though that never seems to turn out well in stories.

  24. Great post! This makes me really miss Arizona. It’s the Palo Verde beetle that makes that hazy buzzing sound during the summer, isn’t it? Nothing like it, it’s a really weird thing to miss since it used to irritate me all the time. I remember my sister collecting beetles like the little metallic bluey-greeney ones that look like hotwheels cars. Fabulous.
    PS I think you should’ve had the sunburst beetles at your wedding. They sound amazing! Would have lended a little Tim Burton fanstasy element…

  25. Congratulations on the front page posting. I was seriously interested in insects when I was growing up and I still love them (except mosquitoes and cockroaches). We have a lot of interesting species in Texas also. including one that’s similar to the palo verde beetle. When i was a kid we had trees called bumelias that often had borer beetles living in them. I liked to poke sticks in them to coax the feisty critters to the surface. I once saw a beetle that had to be closely related, but was a brilliant green on top, with a reddish-gold hue underneath. Really gorgeous insect.

    We have a number of species of click beetles. Most are small and all were brownish in color. Never saw a green click beetle like the one you posted. However, we have a very interesting one that has two dots underneath that glow in the dark, like fireflies. They were usually larger than average. About an inch long or more. Ever seen anything like that?

    • I haven’t personally seen the click beetle you’re talking about, but I have seen specimens in collections. They’re very pretty dead, so I can only imagine how amazing they would be alive! You definitely live in a great place for insects too, so I’m glad you appreciate your local diversity! Texas has the majority of the uncommon dragonfly species in the country, so I’d really love to travel around to different aquatic habitats in your state, do a little collecting, and take a ton of photos of dragonflies. It’s actually on my life to-do list!

  26. There are definitely some awesome aquatic insects in our state. I love the damselflies, which come in bright red, blue and other colors, and the dragonflies, which can also come in bright colors and be surprisingly large. Also think Dobsonflies are interesting. Their larvae, helgramites, also make great fish bait, but will pinch the crap out of your fingers.

    Lots of great insects of all kinds. Unfortunately the insect life (and other life) has been disrupted by the the fire ant that started colonizing our state in the ’80s. We’ve gotten used to those. Not the end of the world like we thought at first. But I miss our red ants, and the cute little horned toads that ate them.

  27. Pingback: Beetles y’all! « anything about bugs

  28. Lovely bugs :-)

    I have always loved beetles, they’re just such cool creatures. Thanks for posting and congrats for being on Freshly Pressed.

  29. You have quite interesting beetles over there! I wish we had such an interesting fauna when it comes to beetles – the Grant’s Hercules beetle and scarab is just awesome. We mainly have tiny, more boring beetles. With some exceptions. But still, nothing compares to all the wonderful weevils of the world… Like the phyllobius – it is just cool.

  30. Pingback: Monday Misc « In Favilla et Cinere

  31. Nice blog! Sorry that we did not connect during my whirlwind visit to southeastern Arizona this summer. Maybe next year! By the way, Chalcolepidius ostentus is a synonym of C. smaragdinus. Another Casey name, C. rectus, is also a synonym of this species.

    All the best, ART EVANS

  32. For the rest of my life I’ll never forget the palo verde beetle!

    When I was 6, I was swimming in my pool with my family and some friends when I felt something on my back. I insisted there was something on my back and they all laughed saying I was paranoid; but when I turned around they found a palo verde beetle on my back with 2 of its legs caught in the straps on my swim suit; so it was moving like crazy but couldn’t get away. Luckily my brother was good enough to get it out.

    It was not so fun then, but it now creates a fun story considering how big of an insect it is and it always makes people shudder!

    • Ha ha! I actually have a similar story. When I was 4, I was on my swing in the backyard one evening near dusk. Suddenly, this giant black demon bug fell out of the sky and landed right on my shoulder right near my face. I ran around screaming trying to get it off, but it took a while. I believe my dad finally pulled it off me. I was traumatized by beetles for a long time after that incident. But I love them now! Funny how time can change your opinion of such things, eh?

  33. Wow, thankyou. I’m English, so was not aware of these fascinating beetles of yours, though as a photographer and wildlife watcher I love insects. I, too love dragonflies. Spent much of last summer stalking them to get photos, some of which are on my website as pictures for folk to hang on their walls. I agree, many insects ARE beautiful enough to admire, and I can’t understand my own sisters comments to one I couldn’t identify and asked for someone to tell me what it was. ‘Hideous’ was her reply. Sigh!

  34. Fascinating! If I’d seen your picture of the Palo Verde beetle earlier this summer, I would have had some idea of which direction to search. We found a borer beetle in our yard; my husband encouraged me to take a picture of it and I went on the hunt to figure out what it was. Turns out, it was a spotted pine sawyer. If interested, there’s a blog post with a picture here:

  35. I’m startled to see so many folks declaring “ick”– there’s so many more hideous arthropods in the world. I will admit that the scarab picture is about the least appealing possible of that creature (buddy, what goes on under your wing covers is your business, not mine), but frankly if I’m going to find a bug in the house, a beetle is the preference.

    On the wedding front– why not claim to have found a place that rents out little electro-chemically powered fakes? You can, as everyone knows, find ANYTHING on the internet….

  36. Pingback: Full Moon Holiday wallpaper, Who’s worse for the environmentmen or women, How cats drink | tangledwing

  37. Pingback: An Inordinate Fondness #11 – Kindergarten Kunstkammer « The Bug Whisperer

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