Lightning Bugs Beetles
Location: Outside U.S.
Date: Summer 2012
Why are lightning bugs beetles?
Taxonomists - scientists who study the relationship and naming of living things - use many different clues to name animals. One of the most important characters of the insect order Coleoptera, the beetles, is the structure of the wings. In most beetles the fore wings are hard and make a protective armor when the insect is at rest, and the hind wings are soft and power flight. The fore wings of lightning bugs are not as hard as those of many beetles but if you watch them closely when they fly you can see the difference between the two sets of wings. Many other characters are also used to complete classification.
What makes a beetle a beetle? The easiest way is to look at the wings. All insects have two pairs of wings (four wings total). But beetles are unique: their front pair of wings (called elytra) are hardened. The back pair are membranous (meaning that they are thin, see-through, and delicate). The back pair is used for flight, while the front pair (elytra) fold over the rear pair when not in use. This serves as protection, almost like a body shield. It has allowed them to adapt to many different environments (like digging underground) without having to worry about their wings ripping apart!
Dr. Tim Durham
Undergraduate Studies & University Colloquium
Department of Biological Sciences
Florida Gulf Coast University
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Update: November 2011