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Interactions with Humans

Throughout history, humans have had diverse interactions with, and perceptions of beetles.

Coccinellidae beetles were once perceived to have a close association with the Virgin Mary, hence their common name “ladybugs.”

Ancient Egyptians recognized dung beetles (Scarabaeidae) as a symbol of Ra, the sun god, because of parallels between the beetles’ behavior and cosmic activities credited to the deity. Much as the scarabs rolled dung balls across the desert, Ra was thought to guide the sun across the sky each day. The symbolism of sacred scarabs has continued until today, as scarab images are still incorporated into jewelry, signifying good luck to the buyer or wearer.

The mystery and aesthetic beauty of beetles has been captured in paintings, sculptures, dances, poems, songs, and other art forms. Beetles have been used by many cultures for decoration.

The brilliant metallic elytra of Buprestidae serve as natural sequins on textiles, and as biological gems in jewelry. In some cultures, beetle horns are included in jewelry because they are thought to increase sexual potency.

Live stag beetles (Lucanidae) are prized as pets in Japan, where a considerable amount of study has been given to their care in captivity.

In Thailand the practice of “fighting” male Hercules beetles (Scarabaeidae) is a traditional source of entertainment. With a referee controlling the action, two males are introduced into an arena. When a female is placed nearby, her mating pheromones trigger the combatants to engage each other. The match ends and a victor is declared when one male becomes exhausted or backs down from the advances of his opponent.

In Central America local craftsmen blur the distinction between “pet” and “jewelry” by gluing rhinestones, glass beads, and a small chain to the dorsal surface of zopherid beetles. When the tiny chain is pinned to clothing, the tethered beetle becomes living jewelry.

Entomophagy, the eating of insects, is common in many parts of the world, and beetles often make up part of the menu. Larvae of palm weevils (Curculionidae) are considered to be a delicacy on the islands of the South Pacific. Similarly the fleshy, sausage-like larvae of various long-horned beetles (Cerambycidae) and scarabs are relished by people around the world.

Mealworms, the larvae of some Tenebrionidae beetles, are easily reared and have become standard fare for culinary demonstrations of entomophagy.

Beetles attract the most attention when they become economic pests of agriculture, horticulture, and forestry. Two families, the snout beetles (Curculionidae) and the leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae), include many serious pest species.

In the middle to late 1800s, the Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decimlineata (Chrysomelidae), abruptly expanded its range across North America and then colonized Europe and neighboring regions. Great efforts were made to thwart the invader each time it appeared, but ultimately the beetles succeeded.

Throughout the 20th century an epic battle was waged against the notorious boll weevil, Anthonomus grandis grandis (Curculionidae), in the Cotton Belt of the southern United States, where it inflicted great financial losses. A sustained and coordinated effort to control this pest succeeded in eradicating the boll weevil from portions of several states by the turn of the millennium.

Predaceous ladybugs are often used in biological control to suppress populations of sternorrhynchan crop pests (i.e., aphids and scales). In the first successful biological control introduction, an Australian ladybug, Rodolia cardinalis, suppressed the cottony cushion scale (Hemiptera) on citrus crops in California.

Phytophagous beetles have been employed to control weeds. In the 1960s, the cattle-rearing industry in Australia faced a dilemma, because cows are not native to 
the continent, no natural bovine dung entomofauna was available to use their feces. Therefore cow patties persisted for months, during which time they served as breeding grounds for pestiferous horn flies. After careful study, Australian entomologists introduced South African Onthophagus dung beetles (Scarabaeidae). The measure was successful, and the problem quickly abated. 
Perhaps the least appreciated human-beetle interactions are those in which human population pressure inflicts a negative impact on beetle populations. 

Coleopteran diversity is largely attributable to their specialization for particular geographic locales, microhabitats, and food. As human populations grow and people alter the Earth for their needs, destruction of spatially restricted resources is an inevitable result, leading to extinction of species associated with those resources. Ironically, a characteristic that helped Coleoptera to attain the astounding degree of diversity that it exhibits today also predisposes many beetle species to anthropogenic extinction.