Introduction to California Beetles

Introduction to California Beetles

by Arthur V. Evans, James N. Hogue
The amazing armored bodies of beetles allow them to bore into plant tissue, navigate fast-moving streams, burrow through seemingly impenetrable soil, survive blistering heat, and fly. With around 8,000 species living in California, beetles represent the largest and most diverse group of organisms in the state and are an excellent subject for study since they can be


The amazing armored bodies of beetles allow them to bore into plant tissue, navigate fast-moving streams, burrow through seemingly impenetrable soil, survive blistering heat, and fly. With around 8,000 species living in California, beetles represent the largest and most diverse group of organisms in the state and are an excellent subject for study since they can be found almost everywhere--in backyards, gardens, forests, and deserts. This, the only guide to California beetles available, is the perfect book for anyone--from outdoor enthusiasts to professional biologists--who wants to explore the fascinating world of beetles. In addition to providing information on where to find and how to study beetles, the book also gives an engaging and accessible overview of their natural history, biology, distribution, and relation to humans.

* 51 color illustrations and supporting black-and-white photographs and drawings identify the characteristics and habits of 23 of the most conspicuous and interesting beetle families in California

* Chapters describe beetles of special interest--fossil species, endangered species, pests, biological control agents, and more

* Includes an annotated list of terrestrial and aquatic beetle habitats by season, information on starting and caring for a beetle collection, details on keeping beetles alive in the classroom, and a checklist of California beetle families

Product Details

University of California Press
Publication date:
California Natural History Guides Series, #78
Product dimensions:
4.50(w) x 7.25(h) x 0.88(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Arthur V. Evans James N. Hogue

The University of California Press

Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-24035-9

Chapter One


Beetles have long captured the imagination of California's human inhabitants. No doubt the earliest interest in California beetles came from the indigenous peoples who lived in the region for over 10,000 years, long before the arrival of the Europeans. Beetles played an important and practical role in the lives of these indigenous peoples, possibly as medicine and most certainly as food. Later, Spanish mission builders introduced agriculture to the state but had little direct interest in California beetles. The activities of the Spanish, however, did result in the introduction of several kinds of important beetle pests to California from the Old World.

The first scientific studies of California beetles began with the Russian occupation of northern California in the early 1800s. The influx of Americans and Europeans to California in the wake of the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s led to an increased interest in California's unique beetles. With the rapid increase of the state's agricultural prowess and subsequent pest infestations, the stage was set for the establishment of research institutions, universities, and societies fostering the study of California beetles. The early beetle collections of theseinstitutions were built largely by dedicated amateurs who conducted extensive field work throughout the state on their own time and money.

Native Americans and Beetles

California's Native Americans considered the larvae of the Pine Sawyer (Ergates spiculatus) and the California Prionus (Prionus californicus) to be delicacies. These sausage-sized grubs are an excellent source of fat and were removed from logs or stumps to be cooked or eaten raw. Other longhorn beetle (Cerambycidae) larvae, including the Ribbed Pine Borer (Rhagium inquisitor), Nautical Borer (Xylotrechus nauticus), Spotted Pine Sawyer (Monochamus maculosus), and Black Pine Sawyer (M. scutellatus), were also consumed. Weevil grubs infesting stores of acorn and pine nuts not only provided an additional source of protein, but they probably enhanced the nutty and oily flavor of the meal. Adult Striped June Beetles (Polyphylla crinita, Scarabaeidae) and other common scarabs attracted to evening campfires were frequently consumed.

Not all Native American encounters with beetles were of the culinary sort. Large black and bumbling darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae) were certainly known to the Mojave by their offensive smell and were dubbed humahnana. The Juaneno people referred to bright red ladybugs (Coccinellidae) as coronnes, and yellow species were called tepis. Interestingly, these were the same words used to refer to the first and second wives of their chief.

European Colonization

The Spanish settlements in what is now California began with the establishment of Mission San Diego in 1769 and stretched northward to Sonoma. The influence of the mission system began to deteriorate in 1834 and abruptly ended in 1846. The primary aim of each mission was the development of agriculture to provide food for the native people and other mission workers. To this end the mission fathers brought with them all kinds of plant materials from Europe and elsewhere, including seeds, vines, and rootstock. Hidden among these materials were some of the first beetles introduced to western North America. European grain pests such as the Granary Weevil (Sitophilus granarius) and the Rice Weevil (Sitophilus oryzae, Curculionidae) were found sealed in the adobe bricks of the Santo Domingo mission in Baja California, built in 1775, which suggests that these and other pests were introduced to California with the establishment of the San Diego mission.

Beginning as early as 1779, whaling vessels and hide ships carrying furs and tallow from Asia and Europe landed at the harbors of San Francisco and Monterey to obtain supplies. From these ships were probably the first introductions of European ham beetles (Necrobia, Cleridae), skin beetles (Anthrenus and Dermestes, Dermestidae), and spider beetles (Ptinus, Anobiidae). Native skin and hide beetles were also spread up and down the coast by these ships and were very likely introduced to other ports elsewhere in the world.

Early Russian Influences

Unlike the Spanish, whose interests in California were primarily mission building, the Russians were very much interested in the exploration of the region's natural history. Russian America stretched from Alaska southward to coastal northern California. Fort Ross (pl. 1), located north of San Francisco, was a noted trading center and farming community established by the Russians in 1812 in what was then called New California. The community became a focal point for many Russian insect collectors who scoured the territory between Bodega Bay and Mount St. Helena for specimens, especially beetles. Fort Ross was abandoned in 1841, but not before several prominent entomologists and naturalists had studied beetles from the region.

Johann Freidrich Eschscholtz (1793 to 1831) (fig. 1) made two voyages to California, courtesy of the Imperial Russian Navy. In 1815 Eschscholtz arrived on the brig Rurik as the ship's physician and naturalist. He collected for only one month in the vicinity of San Francisco and was accompanied by botanist Adelbert von Chamisso. On this trip, the first specimens of the California poppy were collected. Chamisso named the species Eschscholtzia californica, in honor of his friend and colleague.

Eschscholtz returned to San Francisco Bay in September 1824. His collections on this trip were made in the vicinity of San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Rafael, Bodega Bay, and the lower Sacramento River. He spent several days in the vicinity of Fort Ross, where he obtained a large series of nearly 100 species of beetles.

Eschscholtz later visited the French naturalist Pierre Francois Marie Auguste Dejean in Paris. Dejean had accumulated the greatest collection of beetles in the world, with over 22,000 species. Here, Eschscholtz penned many of the descriptions of the beetles he collected during his last trip to California. After Eschscholtz's death, Dejean published many of Eschscholtz's descriptions in 1836. Although Dejean attributed the descriptions to Eschscholtz, the rules of zoological nomenclature dictate that he and not Eschscholtz is the author of the species.

The Governor of Finland, Carl Gustov von Mannerheim (1804 to 1854), prepared and described much of the beetle material accumulated by Russian museums, especially those collected on expeditions to Siberia, Alaska, and California. He wrote two of the first papers on California beetles in 1840 and 1843, describing hundreds of species. His collectors included the governor of Russian America (F. P. Wrangell), two physicians in the Russian American Company (E. L. Blaschke and F. Fischer), the overseer at Fort Ross (G. Tschernikh), and an entomologist (I. G. Vosnesensky).

Ilya Gavrilovich Vosnesensky (1816 to 1871) was the only Russian to visit California who was trained as an entomologist. He served as an apprentice to E. Menetries at the Imperial Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg. The Imperial Academy sent Vosnesensky to Russian America specifically for the purpose of collecting insects. He arrived at Fort Ross in July 1840 and remained there until September 1841, collecting in the vicinities of San Francisco, Russian River, Bodega Bay, and New Helvetia. New Helvetia, now the site of Sacramento, was founded by the Swede John Sutter, who established Fort Sutter there in 1841. Russian entomologists C.V. von Mannerheim, V. I. Motschulsky, and E. Menetries described Vosnesensky's beetles.

Military Outposts and Entomological Exploration in California

Logistical difficulties excluded California and much of the West from any thorough explorations by American entomologists in the early nineteenth century. Collections made by a few adventurous collectors during railroad surveys and at military garrisons during the mid-1800s, however, yielded many exciting new beetles from California. American military outposts in California served as early centers of collecting activity for eastern entomologists employed as army surgeons.

Fort Tejon was a military post built in 1852 and was established to protect immigrants from bandits and renegades. Located in the mountains between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, Fort Tejon was a popular and fertile hunting ground for beetle collectors of the day. Hungarian zoologist and botanist John Xantus de Vesey collected there in 1857 to 1858. John L. LeConte collected beetles in the region in 1850 and described many beetles collected there by Xantus. G.H. Horn also visited Fort Tejon and collected a large number of beetles there sometime between 1863 and 1867.

Horn also collected numerous beetles at another important early entomological site in California, Camp Independence. Located east of the Sierra Nevada in Inyo County where what is now the town of Independence, Camp Independence was established on Oak Creek in the Owens Valley in 1862. The camp was leveled and immediately rebuilt after the earthquake of 1872 but was later abandoned in 1877.

American entomology at this time was frustratingly difficult, requiring consultation of European literature, specimens, and entomologists. The flow of specimens outside the country fueled efforts to build and maintain large, permanent, and comprehensive insect collections staffed by professional entomologists. By the end of the Civil War and the completion of the first transcontinental railway in 1869, the stream of specimens from the West to entomologists and the scientific institutions of eastern United States increased dramatically. By the 1880s, institutions such as Harvard University, the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian Institution, and their publications established American entomology as a science comparable to that of Europe.

Centers for Beetle Study in California

Beginning with the discovery of gold in 1849, enormous numbers of people from all walks of life, including naturalists, immigrated to California. As California's population grew, so did the state's agricultural industry, particularly its fruit culture. This chain of events set into motion the establishment of California's research institutions and universities, first in the northern part of the state and then spreading southward. With its institutions approaching the status of those in the east, California continued to attract enthusiastic researchers and collectors from the rest of country.

California Academy of Sciences

Stemming the flow of western North America's insects to the institutions of the east was the establishment of the state's oldest scientific society, the California Academy of Natural Sciences. Founded in San Francisco in 1853, the Academy later changed its name to the California Academy of Sciences in 1868. Construction of its first permanent buildings to store collections began on Market Street in 1891. The Academy's collections and libraries provided the first focal point for California beetle study.

Unfortunately the Academy's collections and libraries were almost completely destroyed in the fire following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Temporarily headquartered in the Security Building on Market Street, the Academy immediately set out to rebuild its collections and library. The new buildings were completed in 1915 at their present location in Golden Gate Park.

Since 1933, the monthly meetings of the Pacific Coast Entomological Society have been held in the Academy's Entomology Department. Today the Academy houses the largest insect collection in California, with more than 12 million specimens, and is the site of the most important beetle collection west of the Mississippi River.

University of California

Founded at Berkeley in 1868, the University of California was established as California's foundation for agricultural investigation and teaching in the state. As the state's agricultural prowess grew, so did its insect pest problems. Special instruction in entomology at the university began in 1882, and the Department of Entomology and Parasitology was established in 1920. Agricultural Experiment Stations were set up throughout the state to study regional agricultural pest problems, especially those affecting citrus groves. The California Insect Survey was started in 1940 by the Agricultural Experiment Station in an effort to build a comprehensive collection of the state's insect fauna and facilitate projects in applied entomology in California. The Essig Museum of Entomology at the University of California at Berkeley was founded as the collection component of this survey and currently contains over five million specimens. The University of California system now has two other campuses (Davis and Riverside) that house important California beetle collections.

San Diego Museum of Natural History

About the same time the new California Academy of Sciences reopened its doors, two other important entomological institutions were founded in Los Angeles and San Diego. The San Diego Natural History Museum traces its roots to an enthusiastic group of amateur naturalists who formed the San Diego Society of Natural History in 1874. The Society opened its first exhibits in a hotel in 1912 and moved to Balboa Park five years later. Its present facility was built at that location in 1933. This small but historically important beetle collection contains species from the San Diego region and Baja California.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Under the auspices of the county of Los Angeles, the Museum of History, Science, and Art formally opened in November 1913. The early reputation of the museum was built on the internationally renowned Pleistocene deposits, including insects, recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits. With the departure of the Art Department in the early 1960s, the museum became known as the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and later as the present Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the museum sponsored the annual Butterfly Show featuring numerous insect displays. This tradition continues today with the annual Insect Fair held in May. The museum is also the site of one of the country's largest insect zoos, attracting nearly a quarter million visitors each year.

With eight million specimens, the Entomology Section houses the second largest insect collection in California. Over the years it has absorbed the entomological collections of the University of California at Los Angeles, University of Southern California, and Stanford University. The collection is a repository for the California Channel Island survey conducted in the 1930s and 1940s. The C.D. Nagano collection of tiger beetles is deposited here. In 1995, one of the authors (Evans) added his worldwide collection of scarab beetles, totaling some 40,000 specimens, to the museum. The Lorquin Entomological Society, named after the famed French naturalist who explored California in the mid-1800s, is affiliated with the Entomology Section and has held its meetings at the museum since 1927.

California Beetle Workers

California, with its profusion of beetles and habitats, has inspired professional entomologists and dedicated amateur naturalists for nearly 200 years. After the Russian explorers left California in the 1840s, several European and American coleopterists made significant contributions to our understanding of the state's beetle fauna. Although a few were trained as entomologists, most were physicians, tradesmen, or independently wealthy naturalists building their own private beetle collections (fig. 2). These private collections eventually found their way into museums and universities throughout the country and form the foundation of our understanding of beetle classification, distribution, and biology. The lives, interests, and contributions of some of these men are briefly presented below.


Excerpted from INTRODUCTION TO CALIFORNIA BEETLES by Arthur V. Evans James N. Hogue Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Arthur V. Evans is Research Associate in the Department of Entomology at the National Museum of Natural History, at the Smithsonian
Institution, and in the Department of Recent
Invertebrates at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. He is coauthor, with Charles L. Bellamy, of An
Inordinate Fondness for Beetles
(California, 2000). James N. Hogue is Manager of Biological Collections in the Department of Biology at California State University, Northridge, and Research Associate at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

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