Note, I’ll also be doing a post specifically about scarab beetles.
“Beetles comprise the order with more members than any other in the animal kingdom. Scientists have catalogued more than 350,000 species. Like most insects, a beetle has four wings. What makes the beetle different is that he front pair are no longer useful for flight, instead they have evolved into tough sheaths that conceal the functional hind pair when the beetle is at rest.”
– Gordon Grice
From an imagery point of view, these protective sheaths are full of juicy metaphors. We can turn to some of the ideas from the crab, the turtle, the ladybird and the snail as they provide a shell or armour of sorts. I find it interesting to think about how they were once wings – the beetle stopped flying and in doing so it needed to create this extra layer of protection. Is there something there about how vulnerable we become when we don’t step out of our comfort zone?
The protective shell can come in an array of colours including beautiful iridescent rainbows, perhaps you identify with a particular type of beetle that has appeared to you recently, or maybe you want to take a look at local species for a more intimate connection. If you do, take a moment to think about the colour of that beetle and what it means to you. Here I don’t mean look up colour symbology but of course do feel free to, what I mean is probably best explained with an example: my granma almost always wore a particular shade of greeny blue and thus if a beetle appeared to me with that colour I would react differently to a black beetle.
The protective side of the beetle comes up when we turn to ancient Egypt. Whilst the scarab, or dung, beetle were considered sacred, other beetles were also important. Throughout their history the ancient Egyptians held insects in special reverence. A predynastic grave was found to contain jars filled with wood boring beetles. Metallic wood boring beetles were important as amulets and were used before the use of scarab beetles. Click beetles were also important to the ancient Egyptians and shields were often the same shape as the prothorax of them. Protection is such a big part of what the beetle asks us to think about.
Moving around the world to native American mythology, we find a story of a water beetle which dove into the water and brought back mud to make earth and a tale where an Eleodes beetle was in charge of placing the stars in the sky. Through a mix of arrogance and carelessness, the stars were dropped and became the milky way. The beetle was so ashamed of what he’d done that even today, he hides his face in the bird when approached. We’ll see this a bit more when we turn to the scarab, but there are ideas here of building something so much greater than yourself. We have a small beetle creating earth, placing the stars and with the dung beetle, making a ball of dung that is comparatively huge compared to the beetle. Size doesn’t matter. We find this echoed loudly in the Hercules beetle which is one of the largest beetles and which can lift 850 times its own weight.
Strength takes on different forms and whilst the bombardier beetle can’t outlift the Hercules beetle, it can survive being eaten. When attacked by a frog they will squirt boiling chemicals out their anus which make the predator vomit, one study showed that the beetles survived regurgitation in 43% of cases and there is no way that frog will make the same mistake again! Survival is an important trait for beetles.
We also find with the beetle a vulture like cleaner which turns waste into value, turns negatives into positives. This may also parallel the dichotomy on how we view beetles; some are seen as pests and others are used as pest control. There are angles and ways of looking at things which can transform how you see them. Perspective matters. You might also be called to consider how you recycle ideas and resources, how you make new out of old.
Returning again to the idea of looking at local beetles, stag beetles are Britian’s largest beetle. They spend 3-7 years underground as larvae and then emerge for six weeks as adults to reproduce. Males enjoy a spot of sunbathing to gather strength then patrol the same area repeatedly in search of a mate. There is a suggestion here about the importance of waiting, letting ideas or plans percolate a while before jumping into them. Put in a bit of work in the preparation stage so you don’t waste your strength and energy when you get to the action. I think the image of the stag beetle patrolling an area has some intriguing metaphors in it. On the one hand it could be a case of impatience, of going over the same ground and expecting different results but on the other hand, in repeating the same flight path, the beetle is intimately getting to know his immediate surroundings, something which chimes heavily with the work I’m doing around nature and writing.
There is just one more aspect of the beetle that I want to think about here and that is their antenna. Different species use them differently but on the whole they are used for sensory perception and can detect movement, smell and help the beetle feel their way round their environment. There is a very physical connection to your surroundings here. It is almost like the beetle is shouting at us to get out and touch a tree, feel the grass, stand bare foot on the dirt. Get intimate with the world immediately around you. Feel the earth and allow yourself to experience how grounding it is to connect with nature and our planet.