Even if you spot no other critter while wandering through wadis, you are almost guaranteed to see at least one darkling beetle, likely scurrying across the sand to find safety under a desert plant.
Darkling beetles are what we commonly call the beetles that make up the Tenebrionidae family of beetles (Order Coleoptera). There are more than 20,000 species of darkling beetles worldwide. In Egypt, there are about 400 different species, around 120 of those can be found in Sinai. I believe most of the darkling beetles that I have photographed belong to the Adesmia genus, but I have not been able to narrow down the identification any further.
Though most darkling beetles are dark in color, they are actually named for their nocturnal habits. A few beetles are colored or patterned, sometimes with red. Many of the larger species, like the ones pictured here, are flightless. The elytra (the rigid, forewings) are fused.
The domed shape of these darkling beetles, particularly those in the Adesmia genus, remind the Jebeliya Bedouin of donkeys. They refer to them as ‘uwir al banat, or “newborn donkey for girls”. 1
Darkling beetles are common in desert areas, where they fill an ecological niche as plant scavengers. They are generalist omnivores though, meaning they can feed on a wide variety of plants and animals. As both larvae and adults, they feed on fresh or decaying plant matter like leaves or rotting wood. They will also eat fungi, dead insects and larvae. You will find darkling beetles living under logs and stones, in termite and ant nests, in plant debris, and in the dry dung of animals.
I always enjoy coming across these beetles while I’m wandering. They are entertaining to watch as they scuttle out of the way or over rocks. They are a good reminder that I am not alone out there, that there is a variety of wildlife surviving in our desert wadis.
On a lunch break in Wadi Lebba a few years ago, a darkling beetle was brave enough to approach our picnic spot so I shared a bite of orange with him.
If you’ve not spotted a darkling beetle on your wanders yet, watch the ground a few meters in front of you on your next hike. Or stop for a break near some plants. If you’re quiet, you might even hear them scrambling around.
1- Zalat, S., & Gilbert, F. (2008). Gardens of a Sacred Landscape: Bedouin Heritage and Natural History in the High Mountains of Sinai. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.