( Fr-coléoptère; Ger-Käfer; Nor-bille; Rus-нависший

A. "Beetle Wing Earrings, Cayupa, Amazon, pre-1953" from the Cayupa tribe, who live in Ecuador, west of the Andes, near the Pacific Ocean. "Men and women can wear ear ornaments, also called sideburn ornaments.  They are constructed from layered iridescent wing covers of the the scarab beetle. Cayupa personal ornamentation is an expression of identity, wealth, well-being, and power." (Tilly Laskey , personal communication, 2007) Ethnology Collections (A76:2:541a& b) Science Museum of Minnesota. (© photo courtesy of  the Science Museum of Minnesota,

B. Beetles.  Souvenir [postage stamp] sheet from Somalia (2600 Somali shillings, dated 1998) that features beetles and cabochons cut in the form of scarab beetles. (© photo of stamp by Richard Busch, reproduced by permission

Phylum, Arthropoda; class, Insecta; subclass, Pterygota; infraclass, Neoptera; superorder, Endopterygota; order, Coleoptera –– Linnaeus, 1758: The designation BEETLE, in general terms, refers to insects having, among other things, an upper pair of wings that close over and protect their lower or true wings, which they use in flight.  For most beetles, these “wing cases” (elytra) are relatively hard sheaths, and, except for the use complete beetles -- e.g., those mounted in plastic for use as pendants -- these hard sheaths are the parts used in most decorative objects. 
        Beetles are recorded variously and/or by parts to consist of the following: Chitin (a nitrogen-containing polysaccharide), keratin (tough, insoluble protein), lipids (diverse organic compounds ... that are oily to the touch), resilin (elastic substance consisting of cross-linked protein chains) and water
        The surface of beetles consists of two major layers, an extremely thin epicuticle and a much thicker procuticle, and several l minor layers comprise each of these layers.  The minor layers of the epicuticle include an innermost cuticulin (consisting of polyphenols), a layer of wax and an outside cementing layer; the waxy layer prevents water loss, which allows beetles to survive in dry air without dehydration.  The layers of the thicker procuticle, bothof which are are largely chitin, are the exocuticle, which contains proteins that are tanned by phenolic oxidizing substances that harden the proteins, and the endocuticle, which remains flexible (i.e., is not hardened) even though it is rich in protein.  The exocuticle is absent at hinges in beetles’ exoskeletons and resilin within the endocuticle in these areas give the required flexibility.
        In any case, it seems unlikely that beetles or their elytra, which are most frequently used in jewelry or decorative objects would be confused with any material that might be substituted for them. Therefore, only a few properties are listed here.
        Colors - Nearly every color and black occur, and the individual parts, especially the elytra, of most beetles have characteristic patterns that are helpful, especially for non-professionals, to identify beetles.
        Luster - dull to vitreous
        Breakage - irregular for the elytra
        Miscellaneous - Many beetles appear to be iridescent, at least in part.  Although structural colorants appear to be responsible for the overall colors of some beetles, the iridescence seems likely to represent diffraction -- i.e., the effect commonly associated with diffraction gratings.

OTHER NAMES: Several beetles have common as well as scientific names.  Examples for beetles frequently used in jewelry and curios and/or for their replicated images follow:
See also the names of  the beetles mentioned as being mounted for jewelry under USES.

USES:  Beetle wings per se are used for earrings and sideburn ornaments (Figure 1);  in some cases, they are painted or otherwise treated, presumably to enhance their appearances.  Brightly colored elytra of metallic wood-boring beetles, such as the South American
Euchroma gigantea, (Linnaeus, 1764) have also been used to make jewelry.  Complete beetles are embedded in clear plastic, usually said to be acrylic or lucite and in some cases color-tinted, for use as buttons, in diverse pieces of jewelry or as decorative pendants for such things as handbags and mobiles;  these beetles are frequently identified by their common names, sometimes by their scientific names, and their place of origin is often given.  Examples of those I have seen on the marketplace are indicated to be "metallic flow beetles" from Malaysia, "weevils" from New Guinea, and "metallic shield bugs," "assasin bugs [Reduviidae?]," "emerald beetles" and "sagra beetles" from Thailand. (Some marketers also advertize mounted spiders and scorpions, which are not included in this coverage of zoogenic materials.)

OCCURRENCES & NOTEWORTHY LOCALITIES: Although beetles live here and there the world over (except possibly in Antarctica), and in just about all known environments, a large percentage of the beetles used in jewelry and other decorative purposes come from tropical and subtropical regions such of southern Asia,  the East Indies, Central America and northern South America. 

REMARKS: Derivation of the designation beetle as applied to these insects appears to be from the Middle English bitel or bityl which may or may not have referred to little biters.  In any case, etymologists appear to find derivation of the term confusing, so it seems best not to repeat any of the diverse recorded possibilities.

Some countries have laws prohibiting or controlling collection of certain species of beetles. The American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus Oliver, 1790) is an example:  "THE HISTORICAL RANGE of... [this beetle] once included 35 states in eastern and central United States and 3 Canadian provinces ... By 1989, [however,] its known range was limited to Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Rhode Island.  [--]  Because of its disappearance throughout much of its range, N. americanus was listed as a Federal endangered species in 1989. ... Since 1989, [although] N. americanus has been found to be more widespread in Nebraska than previously believed ... and was rediscovered in South Dakota and Kansas[,]" it remains on the endangered species list with all the original restrictions. (Szalanski et al., 2000)

"In one sense the most unusual property of beetles is not some aspect of their structure or natural history, but their sheer number. There are more known species of Coleoptera than any other group of organisms, with over 350,000 described species. Perhaps the most famous quote about beetles comes from the great population geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, who was asked what might be learned about a Creator by examining the world. His response: 'an inordinate fondness for beetles' (Fisher, 1988)." Maddison (2000)

For a brief description of how beetles are mounted, see <>

As might be expected, beetles have had symbolic roles, dating back to prehistoric times, for cultures throughout the world.  Their importance as a food source, their ability to fly and dive into the ground, their vivd colors (and for some their shapes -- e.g., some have horns) and their widespread distribution are given by Cambefort (1994) as reasons for their widespread use as "Religious Symbols," and also provides insight into why beetles have had such prominent roles in myths, fables, legends and folklore.  Two of my favorites beetle-based myths are  1. "In the folk tales of Afzelius it is related how the thor-dyvel ('beetle') was held sacred in our land [Scandinavia].  If you found one lying on its back and turned it over, this act of kindness was believed to atone for your sins." -- Apparently "the beetle was sacred to Thor, who was in one guise the interceder before Odin, Allfather." (Eklund, 1982)   [and]  2.  Cerambus, a grandson of Poseidon, god of the sea, was a famous musician – he was reputed to be the one who first assembled pan-pipes and also the first to play the lyre. Stream and tree nymphs liked his music so much that they helped him herd his flocks of sheep and goats while he played for them. One time, however, Cerambus made up some stories about nymphs that they did not want to hear or believe, and they became extremely angry.  Soon afterwards, when Cerambus did not heed the warning of Pan, the pastoral god, to move his flocks down into the plains so they would not perish in an oncoming heavy blizzard, the nymphs also did nothing -- they just let the flocks perish.  And, at the same time they also used their powers to change Cerambus into a stag beetle that henceforth could only roam around wooded areas and feed on rotting wood and the sap that oozed from the trees.  (Entomologists, by the way, have given Cerambus' name to a large family of insects, Cerambycidae, but that family does not include the stag beetle (Lucanus cervus  (Linnaeus, 1758).)   By the by, the literature available about the scarab beetle -- its use as amulets, seals and talismans -- and the associated myths about it is large and widely available, so none is repeated here.

A firefighting robot -- dubbed "OLE (short for 'Off-road Loescheinheit,' which means 'off-road extinguishing apparatus' in German)..." with its shape "inspired by the interlinking armor of the common pill bug Armadillidium vulgare [(Latreille, 1804)]" is described by Michael Dumiak and illustrated by John MacNeill (Dumiak, 2008). It was dsigned by by Ulrich Wohlgemuth (design professor), OliverLange (biologist and robot-systems manager), and their students at the University of Magdenburg-Stendal, Germany, with input from staff of the design firm Transluszent. Its cost is estimated to be #125000-200,00, and, to date, it is not in production.  Its possible future uses are variously thought to range from extinguishing fires, albeit small ones, to acting as a scout to direct firefighting efforts such as where to air-drop crews of firefighters.  

A few asides:   Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica Newman,1841), and weevils (e.g., cotton, maize and rice weevils) seem always to give rise to unhappy thoughts;  cochineal, the coloring agent used to give a deep red shade to several potables and foodstuffs, is derived from the crushed carcasses of the Central and South American beetle Dactylopius coccus Costa, 1829 -- when this source is divulged to some people, their blood pressures really rise --at least figuratively -- and some change their eating and drinking habits;  on the lighter side -- who has not heard about Mort Walker's  Beetle Bailey or seen a Volkswagen "beetle"(?) -- should either have been mentioned along with the legends(?); and, how about that Cornell University (2005) release relating to the naming of newly described slime mold beetles after George W. Bush, and his cohorts Richard B. Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld (Agathidium bushi, A. cheneyi and A. rumsfeldi [all] Miler and Wheeler, 2005)?? -- Does it remind anyone, other than me, of dung beetles and Sisyphus?

The ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata Linnaeus, 1758 -- also called the "seven-spotted lady beetle") is the official state bug (insect or "insect emblem") of  Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio and Tennessee;  another ladybug (Coleomegilla maculata (DeGeer) -- called the "spotted lady beetle" or the "pink spotted lady beetle") is the official insect of New York;   [and]  the firefly (Photuris pennsylvanica DeGeer,1774) is the official insect of Pennsylvania (, n.d.).  In addition, the "two-spot ladybird" (Adalia bipunctata (Linnaeus, 1758), which is a ladybug in common American parlance, is the national insect of Latvia.

SIMULANTS:  So far as I have been able to determine, no simulant has been represented as a natural beetle.

REPLICAS:  Diverse beetle-like forms have been fashioned in ceramics  (e.g., faience), for use as amulets, talismans, etc.;  cloisonné;  glass (both manufactured and obsidian);  metals and alloys (some of these replicas are enameled, bejeweled and/or even have moving parts);  minerals and rocks;  diverse plastics; and wood (some of these replicas include or are  covered by gold and/or silver leaf).  Scarabs and ladybugs are particular favorites.  Although most of these have been fashioned into jewelry, a few are functional;  large scale scarabs have been replicated in brass for use as paperweights;  ladybugs replicas, in particular, have found many uses -- e.g., Christmas tree ornaments, magnets to hold notes to refrigerators, pup tents,  pulls for fans and lamps, and  timers for cooks et al.  In addition -- again, ladybugs, in particular -- have found widespread representation on such diverse things as decorative cushions, doormats and flags.

Replicas of few "distant cousins":  None of the following invertebrates --
crickets and grasshoppers (Order Orthoptera), dragonflies (Order Odonta), fireflies (Order Coleoptera) and mantises (Order Dictyoptera) -- or any of their parts are, so far as I know, used in jewelry or curios.  Replicas of them, however, are used rather widely as foci of either jewelry or currios or both.  Examples include the following:  
                Crickets -- Solid brass replicas that are up  to a few inches long are marketed as signs of good luck for placing on hearths, mantels, etc.
                Dragonflies -- Replicas of these and damselflies are available as all sorts of jewelry (bracelets, brooches, earrings and pins -- bejeweled, mosaic, enameled, powder-coated or otherwise treated) and also as  "flappers," finials,
handles of  magnifying glasses, hangings, mounts on switch plates, pulls for fans, supports for lamps (including solar-powered ones), tops for things like water gauges, vases and elements in "wall art,"  Their images are also widely printed on Christmas tree ornaments, shower curtains, etc., and they are used as foci for  tapestries.
                Fireflies (also called lightning bugs) -- Lamps -- an obvious use (eh?!!) -- that have resin fly-shaped bodies with lights that roughly abdomen-shaped  are sold as nightlights;  also, an example of marketing nostalgia:  Jars with strings of small fly-like bulbs that light when the jar lid is turned (etc.) are available for those who, like our "kids," once enjoyed collecting real lightning bugs in jars.
                Grasshoppers -- Replicas of these are available for diverse pieces of jewelry, especially brooches and pins.  One of the more attractive ones I have seen is sterling silver with a malachite insert in the body part. 
                Mantises -- Large (> 8" long) praying mantises are crafted from tin and painted by natives of Zimbabwe.
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R.V. Dietrich © 2015
Last update:  28 January 2014
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