Agricultural Double Agent: Beetles are both an Ally and an Adversary

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Did you know that one in five of all known life forms on earth is a beetle? From the Tiny feather-winged beetles to the giant Titan beetle, beetles are found on every continent and have adapted to every terrestrial and fresh water ecosystem.

Beetles, known scientifically as Coleoptera, play an important role in agriculture. They recycle soil nutrients, eat live and dead plant and animal tissue, can help control weeds, and eat insect pests like aphids, slugs, and caterpillars. Their hard work leads to healthier soil, and less competition for resources like light, nutrients, and water, which results in increased crop yields and reduced pest management costs for farmers.

"I do think that beetles are the coolest and most intriguing creatures around. Several fields of science, including agriculture, use beetles as a research tool."

- Dr. Patrice Bouchard, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) coleopterist

Beetles have been successfully used by AAFC scientists as biological control agents to address weed problems in crops and rangelands. Mogulones crucifer, a weevil from the beetle family for example, has recently provided much relief to rangelands in western Canada affected by Houndstongue, a weed highly toxic to livestock.

But beetles aren't always an ally to farmers. Invasive beetles can damage or destroy crops and trees. If not understood and managed, they can cause significant losses to the agriculture sector by feeding on plants and eating up crop yields before harvest or after harvest when grains are stored.

Take the rice weevil (Sitophilus oryzae), which has been a pest of stored grain for more than 4,000 years! To help deal with this ancient pest in Canada, AAFC researchers in Manitoba discovered a new way to control it using extracts from peas.

Due to increased international trade, more types of beetles not yet present in Canada are intercepted at our borders each year. Research by AAFC helps identify allies from adversaries and works to ensure our borders stay open.

You can find out more about these important insects in "The Book of Beetles: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred of Nature's Gems", edited by AAFC's Dr. Patrice Bouchard.

"I hope that this book will generate more interest in this group of insects and lead to important scientific discoveries in the future," he says about the book.

Many of the beetles photographed in the book come from the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids, and Nematodes housed at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's research centre in Ottawa. Each beetle is presented with a life-sized photo as well as a magnified picture to showcase the characteristics and often stunning colourations of these diverse insects.

The book is written to appeal to professional and armchair beetle enthusiasts alike. Basic biological information is given for each beetle, along with a map showing where it is found in the world, its conservation status, and information on its cultural and economic significance.

"The Book of Beetles: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred of Nature's Gems" is published by the University of Chicago Press and available at book retailers.

Key Benefits

  • Beetles play an important role in agriculture, as both an ally and an adversary. They increase soil health, can help farmers manage pests, control weeds, and dispose of waste materials, leading to increased crop yields and healthy biodiversity.
  • Invasive beetles can damage or destroy crops and trees, eat crop yields before harvest or after harvest when grains are stored. AAFC pest management research helps prevent losses to the agriculture sector from beetles and other invasive pests.
  • Acclaimed Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientist Dr. Patrice Bouchard has edited a new book - "The Book of Beetles: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred of Nature's Gems."
  • Many of the photographed specimens are from the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids, and Nematodes housed at the AAFC Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa.
  • Dr. Bouchard is curator of Coleoptera (beetles) at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids, and Nematodes, and co-author of six books and monographs, including the award-winning Tenebrionid Beetles of Australia. He was also a consultant on the show "Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan."

AAFC is joining other organizations worldwide to celebrate the International Year of Soils 2015 and raise public awareness about the fundamental roles of soils in our daily lives. We are doing our part by leading research and development activities in agri-innovations to enhance both the economic and environmental sustainability of Canadian agriculture.

Photo Gallery

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Book cover – "The book of beetles".
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Beetle - Mogulones crucifer

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