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Beetle Diversity in Costa Rica

In our earlier post we talked about how Costa Rica is such a biodiversity hotspot.  We saw a mind-boggling amount of insect species, and many of them were beetles.  During our stay at Texas A&M University’s AMAZING Soltis Center, we filmed and photographed ‘round the clock, and in this post, we wanted to give you a taste of the beetle diversity we found around the Center.

A quick and dirty way to tell beetles from other insects: look at their backs!  The forewings are hardened into “shells” called elytra, and as a general rule meet in a straight line down the back of the insect.  As always, there are some exceptions, but we’ll save that for a later post!  Also, look at their mouthparts.  Beetles always have chewing, or mandibulate, mouthparts.

Dynastes sp. Hercules Beetle

Beetles in this genus are often called Hercules beetles because some of the larger species can carry over 800 times their body weight. Many males of Dynastes have large horns that protrude from their heads that they use to for defense, and to battle other males for mates.  Often in this genus, males and females are easy to tell apart because their body forms are different.  This is called sexual dimorphism.  Males have large horns, and the females don’t!

The males of this species have one horn that extends from the head and another that extends from the pronotum.


Chrysina sp. Jewel Scarab

Believe it or not, these beetles are in the same family, Scarabaeidae, as the Hercules beetle!  These insects are called “jewel scarabs” for a reason.  There are about 100 species in the genus Chrysina and these beetles can be brightly colored, have metallic accents, or have totally metallic bodies.  You might think that these guys would stand out from their surroundings, but they’re very well camouflaged, resembling how sunlight shimmers on wet leaves.  This effect is due to the many layers of chitin in their exoskeletons refracting light differently through each layer.  This gives the beetle its metallic sheen.

To learn more about how the jewel scarab blends in with its environment, you can read the article on Science Daily!

These beetles are prized by insect collectors for their metallic exoskeletons, but we were happy to snap some photos and release it back into the rainforest.


Pyrophorus sp. Luminous Click Beetle

Click beetles are in the family Elateridae.  These beetles have a spine that fits into a notch in their mesosterum.  They will arch their bodies

Click beetles have a special snapping-latching-jumping mechanism on their undersides.  When they arch their backs, a spine from their prothorax gets stuck on a bump on their mesothorax.  By exerting pressure on that spine, it slips over the bump, causing the entire animal to pop into the air.  That pop is accompanied by a characteristic “click” – hence, their common name.

Click beetles in the genus Pyrophorus have the ability to create light with their bodies.  This process is called bioluminescence.  These beetles use chemicals in combination with the process of oxidation to create a greenish glow.  Pyrophorus beetles are actually considered to be the brightest bioluminescent beetle in the world.  When we went out on our night hikes, we could turn off our flashlights and see the lights of these beetles from several meters away!

Even in the light you can see the faint yellow dots on this beetle. But when the lights go out, they glow super bright!


Mallodon sp. Borer Beetle

Ok, we’ll be honest.  We’re not 100% sure of the species, but we think it’s in the genus Mallodon (possibly spinibarbus?).  We haven’t been able to find much information about this particular species, but another species in this genus (M. dasystomus) bores into the wood of oaks, hackberries, and pecan hickories.

Generally, cerambycid beetles lay their eggs inside dead or living wood of various tree species.  Once the eggs hatch, the larvae bore through the wood.  Some species will emerge to pupate in the soil, and others will pupate inside the wood and emerge as adults.  The adults eat a wide variety of plant materials, including but limited to flowers, leaves and sap.

This cerambycid was the biggest one we’d seen – easily 4 inches long.  When we took it out of the plastic container to photograph it, it punctured the plastic with its mandibles!  Needless to say, we didn’t handle this one…

We found this huge cerambycid near our room’s porch light at the Soltis Center.


Stolas sp. Tortoise beetle

Tortoise beetles are in the family Chrysomelidae, and are pretty easy to distinguish from other species within this family.  They have widened elytra that extends beyond their bodies and often completely conceals their legs, giving them the appearance of a very small tortoise. This particular beetle is in the genus Stolas.

The larvae of some species have a cool (and slightly gross) defense mechanism.  They will create a “fecal shield” by pulling together a wad of feces and other organic matter and using it to camouflage themselves from natural enemies.  We sure wouldn’t eat it (well… Kristie might at LEAST taste it….)

We found this colorful tortoise beetle walking on some banana leaves.

These are just a few of the beetle species we found around the Soltis Center.  With such an incredible amount of biodiversity, we can’t wait to go back and see other species we missed!


Join the discussion

  1. Michael D. Barton

    I love the blue on that last one!

  2. Christopher


    Ladies, I just saw your Oregon Field Guide episode, and was highly impressed & entertained! As an entomologist myself, I love breaking down the barriers that exist between “them & us”. I was surprised I did not see any Order: Plecoptera in the shots though. They are always guaranteed to get a few squeals out of adult and child a like.



  3. thebugchicks

    Isn’t it incredible? This photo doesn’t even really do it justice. As the beetle walked from shade to sun on the leaf the color changed with greenish hues on the blue but the orange stayed the same. It was very 3D.

  4. thebugchicks

    Hi Chris, Thanks! Katie Campbell at EarthFix did an amazing job with that piece and we were on honored to be on Oregon Field Guide. Stoneflies, eh? They are certainly cool. When we do outdoor programs near streams we definitely roll rocks to look for them. Are they your Order of interest?

  5. Samuelson

    Muchos Gracias for your article.Thanks Again. Really Cool.

  6. Rachel

    We saw the same cerambycid and I took photos of it and tried to “kick” it gently off of the sidewalk so it didn’t get stepped on, it clung to my toe and pinched me…didn’t feel too good, but an awesome beetle indeed!

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  8. Ralph A. Clevenger

    Hi, Just returned from Costa Rica and am needing some help with identifying some “bugs”. Do you offer that service. Actually I’m glad to pay. If so how do I send you the photos?

    I’m currently posting images from the trip on my instagram feed, ralphwildshot.

  9. Daniel Kemble

    Hi Ralph!

    We sent you an email. Excited to check out your photos!


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