Long Live the Queen: Eusocial Beetles

Here at BeetleFacts.org, we don’t beat around the bush when it comes to our favorite group of insects. Consequently, it’s easy to forget that other people can find non-beetles to be just as interesting. While I personally believe that these individuals are mistaken, and the very notion to be incomprehensible, I’m perfectly willing to admit that there are some neat groups of insects out there.

Take the industrious Hymenoptera. This order, containing bees, wasps, and ants, features some of the finest examples of social behavior and teamwork in all of Insecta. We’ve already brought you beetles that prey on bees. There are even quite a few beetles that actually look like bees, ants, and wasps.

Mimocolliuris chaudoiri. Photo: Alexander Anichtchenko

But these are just pale imitations. Every time I evangelize about the charm and splendor of beetles, I hear some dissenting voice say, “That’s great, but they’re not as cool as bees or ants. Those guys live together and have queens and workers, and make honey or little fungus farms, and they make awesome nests.”

This constant mockery once fueled my desire to invent a new species of eusocial beetle, using next-generation DNA technology and sinister occult rituals, which in turn brought on accusations that my research was “misguided,” “delusional,” and “reprehensible and most likely illegal.” While the National Science Foundation is entitled to their own opinion on my work, I believe that kind of language is inappropriate for a rejection letter. And there were many letters.

So imagine my shock and joy when I found out that nature had done my work for me. Behold, Austroplatypus incompertus, the first and only known eusocial beetle!

https://i0.wp.com/america.pink/images/5/1/8/3/4/1/en/1-austroplatypus-incompertus.jpg

Not only do these beetles have reproductive and worker castes, they, like other species of ambrosia beetle, cultivate fungal gardens as a renewable food source. Suck it, ant nerds!

Formally described in 1992, A. incompertus live inside of Australian Eucalyptus trees, where they dig happy little galleries in the wood to make room for their larva and fungus. The queen beetle begins a new nest by finding a suitable tree, burrowing through the bark and into the underlying tissue, and laying a small clutch of eggs. After the larva hatch and mature into adult beetles, the male offspring escape into the wilderness, and the females loose some of their tiny beetle feet and stay behind to help the queen. These females dig more tunnels, defend the nest from intruders, and tend to the fungus while the queen simply revels in a pile of fungal spores like the plutocrat she is.

So the next time you believe there’s something amazing that beetles can’t do, just remember: there are more than 400,000 species of beetle out there, and one of them may just surprise you.

 

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