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|Darkling beetle larvae (Mealworms)|
Darkling beetles are one of the most important family of beetles in the world. They play a major role in cleaning up messes that have been left out to rot. Scavengers by nature, the darkling beetle can be found eating dead and rotten plant material. We as humans make the mistake of storing dead plant materials everywhere in the form of flour, bran, and other cereals. This has been an open invitation for the darkling beetle and made it a common pest. The darkling beetle, also known as family Tenebrionidae, is actually a type of beetle family that consists of over 20,000 species. Because of this darkling beetles can be found all over the world digging up trouble on almost every continent except Antarctica.
Darkling beetles have a body that is divided into three sections, the head, the thorax and the abdomen. The darkling beetle can range in size from 2-35mm in length. They are almost always colored a dull black or brown. Some are red. There are not many outstanding features about the darkling beetle that let you identify it. They are all for the most part dark colored and smooth bodied. If you need to you can tell a darkling beetle apart from other beetles by their head. Their eyes will almost always have a notch in the front and the point at were the antenna connects to their body is concealed from above by their exoskeleton. In the Tarsal Formula they follow a 5-5-4. They have two, eleven segmented, antenna that help them feel around.
Reproduction for the Darkling Beetle is a less than romantic endeavor. If the female does not submit the male chases it around until it becomes too tired to run anymore and must submit. After the sperm is released into the female she will burrow into the ground and lay over five-hundred eggs. Some varieties lay more eggs and some varieties lay less. Darkling Beetles go through what is called a complete metamorphosis. This is a four step process that includes and egg stage, a larvae stage, a pupa stage, and finally the adult stage. The larva is usually a darker yellow with brown bands running across its body. The larva also have two very small antenna and 6 legs used to move around somewhat clumsily. The meal worm will grow by a substantial amount over the small amount of time it remains a larva. It sheds its exoskeleton very often creating a small snack for itself every time it does so. Once the meal worm is big enough it pupates and goes through its next life stage. During its time as a pupa the Darkling beetle cannot readily move. The most movement it can do is twitch and flex its body with a very limited range. On the beetles third week of being a pupa it should start being ready to open its cocoon. When this happens the beetle hatches and is colored a pale yellow. Certain varieties will air out their wings but many Darkling beetles do not fly so this is more rare. After this brief period of waking up the Darkling Beetle wastes no time in finding a mate and repeating the process over again.
Darkling beetles can be found in a large variety of environments from the deciduous forests in New England to the Barren deserts of the Sahara. In the Ecosystem darkling beetles play an important part by eating organic things that other organisms won’t eat. Darkling beetles eat dead and rotting plants. Their larvae also supply a vast amount of food for many other animals’ diets. They lay over 500 eggs so their surplus numbers of larva allow them to be a ready food source for a very wide variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals of the region. Some humans even enjoy their larva as a high protein snack. Many species of Darkling Beetle have developed a defense mechanism of raising their abdomen in the air and spraying foul smelling chemicals if threatened. The Lara on the other hand are very defenseless. If it were not for their large number of eggs Darkling beetles may of died out very long ago.
Certain darkling beetles never need to drink and can get their moisture by extracting it from the food that they eat.
A special type of Darkling beetle native to the desert will lift its abdomen in the air in the early morning to let the morning dew condense on it then run down as droplets to the beetle's mouth.
Some Central American Darkling beetles can go without food for a year and still survive.
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