Friday, May 13, 2016

The Versatile Beetle - Source of Delightful Ideas


Dr Abe V Rotor

Living with Nature - School on Blog [avrotor.blogspot.com]
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday [www.pbs.gov.ph]
Male coconut beetle (Oryctes rhinoceros) sporting three
sharp, elongated horns like the Triceratops, hence it is
commonly referred to as rhinoceros beetle.

B
eetles comprise nearly a quarter of all the described species on Earth. Over 350,000 species are known worldwide.
They are the most varied in size and shape, color and design, and many species are grotesque, they can pass for aliens. There is virtually no place without beetles, and they can survive the passing of seasons by hibernation or aestivation in extreme cases.

But what is amazing is that the beetle is perhaps the most copied insect among inventors, architects, soldiers and school children. It is a source of other delightful ideas about food, games, art, love, and a lot more. Let's take these examples.

  • The famous Beetle - Volkwagen, and subsequent car models, are basically modeled as beetle-on-wheels.
  • The armored car and the war tank like the German Panzer, are built almost invincible to conventional weapons, and could negotiate rough terrains as the beetle does.
  • The dome of cathedrals (St Peter's basilica) and sports arena (Roman Colosseum, modern sports complex) are shaped like the ladybug or the tortoise beetle. The dome is the distinguishing structure of Baroque and Gothic churches designed for strength and function, as well as beauty.
  • The submarine, from its prototype Nautilus in Jules Verne's novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, to the U-Boat in World War II, are tough yet sleek like the beetle.
  • The fuselage of modern airplanes is as solid and compact as the body of the beetle. (Airbus, Boeing 747) that as many as 500 passengers can be accommodated. The adjustable nose of the Concorde was patterned after the beetle's telescopic body segments.
  • Which led to the invention of retractable ramp ways, telescopes, wall divisions, blinds, doors, hose and a hundred-and-one household and industrial articles.
  • Farm equipment (corn sheller, rice thresher, cone type rice mill) , and kitchenware (pressure cookers and ovens), owe their efficiency and durability to the structural design of the beetle.
  • Fighter planes such as the Stealth combined the aerodynamic features of beetles and lepidopterans (moths). So with racing cars.
  • The lining of furniture and cars is like the inner wings of the beetle (lower photo), while the tough cover of delicate instruments (watches, camera) are like the outer wings (elytra) of the beetle which are built to withstand shook, pressure and the elements.
  • The concept of the lighthouse came from the firefly, which is actually a beetle, so with the insect's mating signal. Blinkers of ships, tall buildings, airplanes, in war zone and camps, are traced to the blinking of the firefly.
  • Yet the efficiency of the firefly's lamp can never be equaled - not even with our most advanced lamps. The more intriguing fact is its bioluminescence, which is light emitted directly from a living body. How glow worms light the deep caves is still a mystery.
  • The Egyptians regarded the Scarabid beetle sacred to the level of worshiping it. The ladybug beetle is enshrined in children books, and idolized in cartoons and animaes. I still remember this beautiful stanza which tells us how the ladybug got black spots on its wings.
"Ladybug, ladybug,
Where have you been?
Your house is on fire,
And your children are in."
  • The most colorful insects second to the lepidopterans are beetles. While they can't produce sensible music but geek...geek...geek, or occasional clicking, a band named the Beatles have yet to be equaled in popularity. Though spelled differently the beetle-like hairdo of the band members is definitely a beetle-shape.
  • On the other hand, the beetle is associated with vice. Gladiator beetles are reared like fighting cocks in some parts of the world particularly in Asia. When we were children we played with June beetles in a tug-of-war contest and bet on them. Male stag beetles fight reminds us of the knights in armor in the Middle Ages.
  • The most dreadful thought about beetles is that they foretell of death. Actually it is the powder post beetle and the deathwatch beetle that this superstitious belief is alluded to. They bore tunnels in wood and in old furniture and in the silence of a dark night you can hear them knocking, sometimes grating like whispering. Their knocking is actually coded love call, and differs according to species and time of the year.
  • But what only few people know is that the beetle is nature's miner, such as the leaf miner of coconut. The powder post beetle (Anobium punctatum) tunnels into dead wood, bring out the debris to the tunnel's entrance just like what our miners do.
  • The beetles may hold the secret of man's quest for long life. Some furniture beetles can outlive their kindly host without being aware of their presence ensconced in unsuspecting tunnels almost invisible to the eye.
  • Now the ultimate scare. Beetle bury the dead! A whole carcass of a rodent would disappear overnight at the site of its death. Examine the soil down under. The carrion beetle is nature's gravedigger (sepulturero) - and joined by other insects, by bacteria and fungi, the cycle of converting the dead into its inorganic components is completed. Otherwise, the world would be one huge pile of dead bodies - and if not recycled, the world would be deprived of new life.
  • But the beetles are perhaps the ultimate model of dedication when it comes to love, and they are very passionate, too. Lovemaking may last for hours. The male dung beetle for one, makes a perfect ball out of animal dung much heavier and bigger compared to its size. The tedious task of taking it to a suitable mate begins, traversing a considerable distance. This swain offers his dowry to a would-be bride. She examines it. On approval, she accepts him, oviposits several eggs into it where her offspring will carry on the next generation.
  • Among the most loved exotic food come from the larvae of the beetle called grub. U-ok in felled logs is a giant grub of the long-horned beetle of kapok, two inches long, round and plump, full of "baby fat." It is gathered by local folks, roasted or steamed in banana leaves. Sauteed abal-abal (Ilk) or salagubang (Tag) - Leucopholis irrorata - is a delicacy among Ilocanos and in many parts of the world. They swarm in May and June at the onset of habagat or monsoon.
Yet this insect is perhaps the most notorious pest, causing unimaginable loss in crops, stored products, wood, fabric, chemicals - and even metals like lead, prompting man to defend himself against the very creature that gave him ideas of many inventions, and models of thoughts.

Overall, the beetle is the most endearing insect to man. They are great pollinators, without them we would not have enough flowers, fruits and vegetables. The living world will starve as well. They provide a major link in the food chain, without them ecosystems would collapse. And the firefly is the most beautiful insect - if not among other creatures - because it lifts man's awe and admiration next to the stars. ~


Female coconut beetle (Oryctes rhinocerus).

Beetles have two pairs of wings: the inner pair is designed for flying, while the outer wings are primarily to cover the soft abdomen and delicate wings. Beetles comprise the biggest order of insects - Coleoptera (Coleo - sheath, leathery; pteros - wings).

Living with Nature, AVRotor, UST Publishing House

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