The ancient Egyptians worshipped scarabs.
Scarab Beetle Scientific Classification
Scarab Beetle Facts
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Did you know that the ancient Egyptians revered a beetle that ate poop?
There are many species of Scarab beetles, and these hard-shelled beetles are both diverse and interesting. Some are brown or black, while others have brilliant colors or a metallic sheen. They live in almost every part of the world and are some of the largest insects that we know.
Scarab Beetle Facts
- There are over 30,000 species of Scarab beetles.
- Scarabs have hard front wings called elytra.
- Dung beetles are a type of scarab.
- Some species of scarabs can cause significant damage to plants and gardens.
- The ancient Egyptians worshiped the Scarabaeus sacer, a type of dung beetle scarab.
Scarab Beetle Species, Type, and Scientific Name
While most people think of one specific species, scarab beetles refer to an entire family of beetles, over 30,000 species total. Their scientific name is Scarabaeidae and they have at least 19 subfamilies. They belong to the order Coleoptera, which includes all beetles. Beetles are characterized by hard front wings called elytra. This order is the largest of the insect world and makes up over 25% of all known species on the earth.
Some notable scarabs include the dung beetle, which is actually an informal name of different kinds of scarab beetles that roll dung as part of their behavior. Japanese beetles, Jewel scarabs, and Hercules beetles are all other examples of members of the Scarabaeidae family. The Scarabaeus sacer is a dung beetle that was worshipped in ancient Egypt and the beetle that most people associate with the scarab family.
Scarabs are part of the Insecta class, Arthropoda phylum, and Animalia kingdom. Understanding where these diverse beetles fit into the animal kingdom is important because they make up such a big part of the insect world.
Appearance: How to Identify Scarab Beetles
Like all beetles, scarabs have hard front wings, which gives them a rotund appearance. They have antennae at the front of their bodies. They use these to sense odors in their environment. One of their most distinctive features is that their antennae end in a three-pointed club. They can ball these up or spread them out, depending on how they need to use them to smell.
Many also have horns near their antennae as well. While they are not large, scarabs do use these horns to battle each other. Their legs have scallops on the edges, which help with digging. This is another feature that many people associate with scarabs.
With so many species, the sizes of scarabs vary as well. The smallest species are around 0.2 inches while the largest is over 4 inches long. The African Goliath Beetle, Goliathus giganteus, is one of the heaviest insects that is known in the animal kingdom.
Some have brightly colored elytra, while others are brown and black to blend in with their environment. They can be quite large and distinctive, which makes them popular with bug collectors. The brighter varieties make great additions to your collection.
Habitat: Where to Find Scarab Beetles
Because there are so many different species, they have widely different habitats as well. Most like environments with manure or decomposing plants. As long as they have a food source, they can live in a wide variety of habitats. They exist on all continents other than Antarctica. These include North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia. In some areas, they are natural inhabitants. Other areas have imported them. Still others have seen species of scarabs become invasive.
Generally, scarab beetles prefer temperate environments because their food is plentiful. They also like gardens and cultivated plant environments, although they are not liked as much by gardeners. Some do live in arctic burrows, however. The diversity of habitats directly reflects the diversity of species.
Diet: What Do Scarab Beetles Eat?
Many species of scarabs eat dung or dead and decomposing plants. Scarabs that are considered dung beetles often roll balls of dung that they later bring back to their homes. This is a notable behavior that led people to give them the name of dung beetle in the first place.
Dung beetles eat the nutrients that are left over in dung after larger animals have eaten and digested their food. They can be quite discerning, with some species only eating dung from carnivores and others only eating dung from herbivores. The ancient Egyptians were fascinated with dung beetles and considered them a symbol of the cyclical nature of life on earth.
Other species prefer live plants, such as leaves and vines. Fruit that has fallen to the forest floor and fungi are also popular foods with scarab beetles. They are relatively small and don’t need a lot to eat. A few do go after small insects and larvae.
Prevention: How to Get Rid of Scarab Beetles
Generally, most species of scarab beetles do not pose much of a threat. In fact, some parts of Australia actually brought dung beetles in to deal with the waste products on their farms. When introducing scarab beetles or any new animal to the environment, it is critical to take measures to keep their population in check.
However, there are some species that can pose a problem for gardeners and farmers. European Chafers and Japanese Beetles are two species that are classified as invasive species. They have spread beyond their natural habitat, where the population is kept in check by natural predators and environmental conditions, to areas where they can reproduce without these natural controls.
When they are larvae, scarabs can feed on roots causing damage. Some adult scarabs cause damage to leaves and fruits, inhibiting growth. Evidence of scarab infestations looks like most other garden issues, with plants failing to grow or showing yellow or brown leaves. For the worst infestations, the roots of plants and grasses will be weak. You might even be able to see the larvae feeding on roots when you pull up the weak plants. Adult scarabs are quite large and easy to see flying, which is more frequent at night.
Insecticides that target adult and larvae forms are the most effective. Because these can be heavy chemicals, it’s best to work with a professional treatment company to determine a safe and effective solution. You can also remove scarab larvae and adults as you find them, although this isn’t as effective when you are dealing with a major infestation.
Similar Insects to Scarab Beetles
Ladybug: Another beetle member of the Coleoptera order, ladybugs are the Coccinellidae family of beetles.
June Bug: While often considered on its own, a June bug, or member of the Phyllophaga genus, is actually a type of scarab. They are called June bugs due to the time of year that they are most plentiful.
Scarab Beetle FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is special about scarab beetles?
People are fascinated with many types of scarab beetles because they roll and eat dung. One species was even worshipped by the ancient Egyptians.
How many types of scarab beetles are there?
There are over 30,000 species of scarab beetles that belong to the Scarabaeidae family with multiple subfamilies and genus.
Are scarab beetles harmful?
Scarab beetles are generally not harmful to humans, although they can fly around and be a nuisance. They can cause damage to plants and gardens, however. Many gardeners treat scarab beetles with insecticides.
What are the differences between scarabs and dung beetles?
The greatest differences between a dung beetle and a scarab can be found in their size and morphology. Although scarabs are a type of dung beetle, they are smaller than many of their fellow family members.
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- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/scarab-beetle
- Soft Schools, Available here: https://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/scarab_beetles_facts/2171/#:~:text=They%20can%20be%20found%20on,are%20classified%20as%20agricultural%20pests.
- Garden Tech, Available here: https://www.gardentech.com/insects/scarab-beetles#:~:text=The%20scarab%20beetle%20family%20includes,May%20beetles%20and%20June%20beetles.