Did you know that there are 30,000 known beetles in the United States? And there are many more yet to be described and found. Worldwide, there are over 400,000 known types of beetles, more than any other insect. If you spend enough time exploring the garden, as I do, you will come across a staggering number of them. And some of them are pretty unique.
Beetles not only are the largest genera, they also do an amazing amount of work in the garden. Some do eat plant parts yes. But many more eat other insects, break down debris and rotting wood, and eat dead animals. They are very much a needed part of the ecosystem. Learning about them may not only help to keep more of them around, but may also help other insects in the garden.
Different Kinds of Beetles in the Garden
You can expect to find dozens of different kinds of beetles in your gardens every day. Sure, there will always be some similar or the same kinds, but there is always more to discover. Look under and on leaves, under rotting bark or dead animals, in the soil, in the water, everywhere! I love them all (except invasive species like EAB, ALB, and Japanese beetle). Let us look at some of the different kinds which you will find often in the garden.
These do not even look like beetles! They really look like ants with colorful bodies. Checkered beetles have a red head a thorax, and their abdomen is usually a variety of different colors. There are 500 species in North America, and I have found 4 or 5 in my gardens. Mostly, they eat the larval or adult bark beetles. But some may consume other small insects and some pollen.
One of my favorites, these beetles have only around 200 species in their genera. One of the things we do at our house is to throw our eggshells, coffee grounds, and citrus peels in an empty mineral tub for composting. In this tub, a variety of carrion beetles can be found, breaking the material down into useable particles. If you compost meat, eggs or eggshells, or dead animals, you will have some of these in the pile, working on it.
These are so cool! I love tiger beetles because many of them are shiny, and fast, making getting a good photo a challenge. They make it interesting. The fastest known tiger beetle, Rivacindela hudsoni can run at 9 km/hr. Wow! With 2000 species worldwide and 1000 in the United States, there are plenty to go around. Tiger beetles eat a variety other insects and arthropods including spiders, grasshopper nymphs, flies, ants, caterpillars, and other beetles. They are also preyed upon, but can form a type of cyanide which they can shoot into the mouth of their predator.
Not actually bugs, but a type of beetle, these are probably one of the most well-known, if not misunderstood insects in the garden. There are around 5000 species of lady bugs worldwide. In my own backyard gardens, I have identified around 10 species, including the ever-present and annoying Asian lady beetle, which is more of a pest. Both the larvae and the adult insects eat other insects. Mainly they eat aphids, but they also consume small spiders, mealybugs, mites, and the larvae of both the Colorado potato beetle and the European corn borer.
There are lots of different kinds of leaf feeding beetles, from those which chew the leaves to leaf miners. I have to say that like finding leaf feeding beetles, because it means that my garden is a habitat for wildlife. If my plants are good enough to get eaten by insects, then great! Those insects will in turn be eaten by snakes, frogs, toads, birds, and other wildlife.
With over 35,000 species in this group, longhorned beetles are abundant. They are characterized by extremely long antennae, which are usually longer than the rest of their bodies. Most longhorns are feeders of various types of trees. Yes, they eat your trees. Besides that, there are a few species which feed on other herbaceous or woody shrubs. Some of them are quite colorful, though others are drab.
Also called jewel beetles or flatheaded borers, because the larvae are flatheaded, these beetles are both benign and destructive pests of trees and shrubs. There are over 15,000 species. The adults, which are very shiny and colorful, feed mainly on pollen and nectar. The larvae feed mostly on trees and shrubs, within the sapwood. Some others are gall makers, and some are leaf miners.
There are more than 30,000 species worldwide of scarabs. In this group also falls the interesting dung beetle, which subsists on dung, of course. These beetles eat a variety of insects, carrion, fungi, and fruit, and there is even a species which feeds on the slime of snails. Many of the scarabs do not look like what most would think of as a scarab, including flower chafers and the Japanese beetle. The larvae of scarabs eat on the roots of grasses, forbs, and shrubs.
With around 1300 species worldwide, this is one of the smaller groups. However, they are one of the more important species, because they eat other insects. One of my favorite things to do when exploring the garden is to look for groups of aphids on plants. Once I have found a cluster, I look around it for predators. I can usually find soldier beetles, syrphid fly larvae, lady bugs and larvae, lacewings, and parasitoid wasps all around a cluster of aphids. Many species of soldiers are not only predators, but also pollinate plants very well, as they fly around for pollen and nectar.
These are probably the most interesting group of beetles, because many of them have translucent wing edges, making them appear see-through. Tortoise beetles are leaf feeders, and can be destructive pests, but some eat things like bindweed, making them beneficial too. Mostly, they are interesting. Some of them carry an “umbrella” of their own poop to ward off hungry predators.
Beetles are numerous in the yard and garden, if you go our looking for them. Some of them will also be attracted to the porch light, including many of the longhorns. If you love your garden, get to know them and look for more exciting things while you do.