Darkling Beetles

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.

References:

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.

Blister Beetles

Blister beetles, in the Meloidae family of beetles, earned their name from their defense system. They secrete a caustic chemical, cantharidin, which is an effective repellent for predators and can cause blisters on the skin when the beetles are handled.

The bodies of blister beetles are usually long and slender and often bi-colored. Their antennae are threadlike or beadlike.

Blister beetles use their strong jaws to chew the flowers and foliage that they feed on.

Mylabris sp.

The bright red and black pattern on the blister beetle pictured above is a warning sign of their toxicity to predators.

Mylabris sp.

Beetles in Sinai

Beetles, forming the largest order of insects with nearly 400,000 identified species, account for nearly 40% of all insects. So I guess it’s no surprise that my collection of beetle images is one of my largest!

Beetles in Sinai

Here’s what you can see in this sampling:

Blister Beetle
Carpet Beetle 
Darkling Beetle
Red Palm Weevil
Seven-spotted Ladybug
Hairy Rose Beetle
Jewel Beetle
and a few unidentified beetles (the blue/green ones…can anyone help with an ID?)

Ladybird Beetles

Desert Garden Ladybugs (2)

Ladybird Beetles, or Ladybugs as I grew up calling them in North America, are quite well-known beetles, but some people may be surprised to learn that you’ll find these colorful beetles in the deserts of Sinai.

Desert Garden Ladybugs (1)

Ladybirds are red, yellow, or orange colored beetles with small black spots on their wing covers. They have small dome-shaped bodies and six short legs. Contrary to popular belief, the number of spots do not indicate age but rather a specific species. Both of the beetles pictured above are Seven-spotted Ladybird Beetles (Coccinella septempunctata), one of the most common.

I have also seen Eleven-Spotted Ladybirds (Coccinella undecimpunctata), pictured below, on caper plants in the wadis around Dahab.

Ladybird Beetles (5)

Both the larvae and adults feed on aphids, small insects that suck the sap from plants. Ladybirds are therefore quite useful in helping to fight these pests in gardens, especially the ones in the mountains around St. Katherine’s, but also in my own desert garden. 🙂

Wadi GNai_Oct13 (12)

When threatened, adult ladybirds release a yellow substance from a joint on their leg that is distasteful to predators and convinces them to find their next meal somewhere else.

Ladybird Beetles (4)

The Bedouin in Sinai call Ladybird Beetles ‘uwaynat umm sulayman, or “the eyes of Solomon’s mother”.

In traditional folklore in some cultures, Ladybird Beetles are thought to bring good luck. Have ladybirds brought you any luck in the Sinai?

References:

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.

Seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) on ARKive.org