The beetles (order Coleoptera) are the most diverse insect order with over 300,000 species described and many thousands still to be described and discovered.
From the tiny to the tremendously large, beetles exist in all shapes and colours. One of the largest beetles in the world is the goliath beetle (Goliathus regius) which can measure up to 11cm in length.
Some species are known as jewel beetles because of their beautiful metallic wing cases (elytra) that protect the flight wings beneath them. This metallic colouration is not caused by a pigment but by iridescence. Iridescence is also seen in some butterflies and is caused by the way the structure of the beetle’s exoskeleton reflects light. Due to this, the beetle’s colouring will not fade even after many years in our collections.
Beetles undergo complete metamorphosis. They hatch from eggs as larvae that range from soft, legless grubs to fierce, fast-running or swimming predators. Once large enough they pupate and then emerge from the pupal case as an adult beetle.
Our collections and collectors
Larvae are most frequently preserved in fluid, such as alcohol. Adult beetles are usually preserved as dry specimens. They have a pin passing directly through the body that allows us to store them securely in drawers. However, some of the smaller beetles are fixed to a piece of card using water-soluble glue, and the pin passes through the card so that the beetle is not damaged.
The majority of our beetle collections exist thanks to the efforts of three collectors:
Philip Le Hardy de la Garde
De la Garde collected many beetles and other natural history specimens during his Naval career, particularly from the Plymouth area when he was based at Devonport. During his retirement he made collections in Teignmouth and Braunton. His collections were left to the Museum in his will in 1913.
John Joseph Reading
John Reading is one of the most famous Plymouth entomologists. He was a curator of entomology at the Plymouth Institution from 1861 to 1863. He left Plymouth in the early 1870s and his collections came into the possession of Brooking Rowe who later presented them to RAMM in January 1904. This donation included a 40-drawer entomological cabinet. Reading kept extensive and accurate records of his captures and sightings and he was involved with several important (re)discoveries.
S.G. Rendel, then living in France, donated his collection of British beetles to the Museum in May 1928. Many of the specimens were collected in the Tiverton area. Unfortunately we know little of his life history.