Jewel Beetles: Natural History and Interesting Facts
Brilliantly colored and shiny to a fault, the Jewel Beetle is the common name for beetles in the Buprestidae taxonomic family. Jewel beetles, also called metallic beetles or wood-boring beetles, are so named because of their distinctive glossy bright colors and iridescent carapaces. Jewel beetles are among the largest families of beetles and over 15,500 species have been identified across 775 genera. Jewel beetles are ubiquitous around the world but the majority of species are concentrated in the northern hemisphere.
Jewel beetles are highly prized among insect collectors due to their unique colors; the more spectacular the more highly sought after. Several cultures throughout history have used the jewel beetle carapace for decorative purposes, such as jewelry or in religious ceremonies.
Like all beetles, jewel beetles have a hard chitinous shell called a carapace that protects the body and serves as a pouch for the wings when not extended. Jewel beetles can range in length from 3 to 80 mm, although the majority of the species are under 20 mm. Their bodies are oval-shaped, flat, and they have a pair of serrate antennae protruding from the head.
A defining feature of jewel beetles is the bright iridescent colors on the carapace. These colors range from reds to greens to blues and many shades in between. The color of the carapace is not due to pigments in the shell, but due to light diffraction by the microscopic structure of the carapace.
Most jewel beetles are active during the day and spend the night nestled under leaves and other plant material. Jewel beetles are herbivores and subsist on a diet of leaves, nectar, stems, roots, and other kinds of plants including trees and grasses. Some species of jewel beetles are virulent pests and can cause massive economic damage if they infest crops.
Jewel beetles undergo a complex metamorphosis that consists of 4 distinct stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Hatched larvae bore into the wood of trees and stems of plants, where they go through the pupa stage. Once they emerge, the adults eat, mate, and die in a relatively short time frame. Most species only live between a few days and 3 weeks.
Interesting Facts About Jewel Beetles
- Jewel beetles can greatly delay their larval development in the face of adverse environmental conditions. Jewel beetles have been recorded delaying emergence for over 25 years and the single longest delayed emergence was a record 51 years.
- Jewel beetles carapaces have been used in various cultures around the world for decorative purposes. The Makech beetle from Central America is often worn as a living decoration.
- The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is such a virulent pest that its spread in North America is currently being monitored and contained by several local governmental agencies.
- The largest known jewel beetle is the Giant jewel beetle (Sternacer orissa) which routinely reaches over 30 mm in length. Giant jewel beetles are a common protein-rich delicacy in the diets of many rural communities in the Limpopo province of South Africa.
You can find a large selection in our shop of Framed Jewel Beetles.