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Natural Science Illustration: Beetles

Natural history illustrators have passions for their subject matter, and we also tend to have “favourites.”  Without a shadow of a doubt, one of my favourite subjects to illustrate is insects.  I’m especially fond the beetles (Coleoptera).

A Passion for Beetles

Chrysochroa buqueti rugicollis

I’m not sure where my passion for beetles sprung from.  I adore their diversity of shape.  I lvoe the incredible way they’ve evolved to adapt to every different habitat under the sun. Many of their adaptations seem wonderfully peculiar.  Take the enormous thoracic “horn” of the Hercules beetle, or the ornate adaptations of the stag-beetle’s mandibles.

Hercules beetle Dynastes hercules

European stag beetle Lucanus cervus

Beetle variety as grubs

I love that much of their early lives is spent as as grubs.   Some are pale and waxy; they tunnel through earth, wood and leaf litter.  Others  are active predators, decorated with patches of colour or spines (like the ladybird larvae).  As adults they emerge as an animal monumentally different in appearance from their earlier morph.  You’ve got to love that transformation.


Seven spot ladybird Coccinella septempunctata

Beetle variety as adults

Even as hard-bodied adults they colonise unexpected habitats.  Water beetles have changed their physiology and morphology enormously to succeed in the aquatic environment.  I find these changes incredibly clever.

Great Diving beetle Dytiscus marginalis

Lesser diving beetle Acilius sulcatus

Think about how incredible it is that beetles exploit dung as a food source.  Consider the amazing dung-rolling exploits that some perform when preparing food for their young.

Dung beetle Geotrupes stercorarius

The colours of Beetles

The shine of beetle wing cases (elytra) is gorgeous.  They can look like they’re made from polished plastic, anodized aluminium, or glittering metal.

Heterorrhina elegans

Purpuricenus kaehleri

I adore the colours that lots of beetles sport; powdery blues, vibrant greens flushed with metallic crimson, solid white spots, and stripes on a bright lustrous background…

Dicronorrhina derbyana

Eupholus bennetti

Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris

Beetles: A passion

For all of these reasons, I feel passionately about beetles.  I am not alone.  There are many books of photographs of glorious beetles.  People breed and collect them as a hobby.  I love painting them more than anything else (for many more of my beetle illustrations check out my beetle image library).   Some of the illustrators I most admire are beetle specialists (such as Mark Russell who specialises in weevils).

As the wonderful biologist J.B.S. Haldane put it, “If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of creation, it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles.”  The inordinate fondness for beetles is something that that I definitely understand!

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Lizzie Harper