Summary: There are more than 800,000 species of insects on earth, more than all the other plants and animals combined. Out of this large number of insects, nearly half are beetles and of those, about 30,000 are scarab beetles.
The scarab beetle may be an insect that you think you have never heard of, but the family of scarab beetles is so large, you have surely run into one at some time or another. The scarab family is comprised of about 30,000 species found throughout the world. There have been over 1,200 scarab species found in North America alone. Some of these species include tumblebugs, May beetles or June beetles, skin beetles, chafers, elephant beetles, shining leaf chafers, flower beetles, dung beetles and goliath beetles.
Scarab beetles are found in a rainbow of colors, including purple, black, green, blue, gold, and bronze. Some species even have bright or metallic colors. Adult scarab beetles are usually either oval or circular in shape. They typically range in size from 0.2 inch to 2 Â½ inches in length. Also, the difference between a scarab beetle and any other type of beetle is the club at the tip of each antenna on a scarab beetle. Scarabs have antennae that fit together like pieces in a puzzle. This can be helpful to know if you have an assortment of beetles invading your backyard and you need to figure out what you are looking at.
Here is an interesting fact about the scarab beetle. Its front legs have teeth on the outer edges. These strong legs cause them to walk rather awkwardly, as would you if you had teeth on your legs. However, they are great legs for digging. And, in spite of the scarab beetles bulky build, most scarab beetles can fly.
The typical scarab beetle will eat grasses, plant materials, fruits, foliage, flowers, sap, roots and feathers. But, dung is their favorite indulgence. They especially favor dung that comes from sheep, rabbits, elephants, horses, camels, and cattle. Examining that variety of sources, scarab beetles either join the circus, live near a zoo, or have worldwide distribution. Probably the last choice.
As gross as eating dung sounds, dung beetles actually help humans by doing so. Scarabs help clean the environment. For example, Australia does not have native dung beetles. When cattle were introduced there the dung was accumulating on top of the soil. Scarab beetles had to be brought into Australia to assist with the breakdown of cow dung. The decomposition also helped fertilize the soil.
Scarab beetles essentially recycle dung because, by using it for their food and homes, they speed up the decomposition of dung in the soil. They go out in search of dung, roll it into a ball that can be up to fifty times their size and bring it home to the wife and kids. Imagine bench pressing fifty times your own weight. The beetles dig holes in their habitat to store the dung in a soft area of soil, enabling the dung to stay moist. Later, the scarab beetles feast on it. Sounds delicious!
Female scarab beetles lay eggs in the underground dung roll. The larvae or grubs, subsist on the dung as they grow until they reach the pupa stage, when they come out of the ground. The dung becomes an integral part of live for the scarab.
If you find a scarab beetle crawling around your garden, chances are it has already indulged in the leaves of your plants and its larvae may have eaten the roots of your plants. You can remove the beetle, if you wish, but if you have decaying wood in your backyard, you may want to leave any scarab beetles in place because of all the good it does in Nature's decay process.