What's that bug? A quick guide to tagging insect photos correctly. Part 1: Beetles

As someone who works with insect and images of insects everyday, I get quite frustrated sometimes looking for images here on dreamstime. Many of them are tagged incorrectly, or more often just tagged with the words "bug" or "insect." So I thought I'd write a quick guide to identifying that critter you've just taken a photo of, or sometime you've already got in your portfolio.

I'm going to try and do this over a series of posts to help other contributors easily identify what they've been taking photos of.

We'll start with probably one of the easiest groups to identify. The beetles, or Coleoptera, are one of the most diverse order of organisms on the planet. There are a variety of estimates ranging as high as 1/5 of all organisms on the planet are beetles. , but there are several quotes as to the diversity of this group. "There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that an English cleric asked the noted evolutionist J.B.S. Haldane what could be inferred about the Creator from the works of nature. Haldane is reported to have replied, "An inordinate fondness for beetles." I've also started a collection of beetle images called "Inordinate Fondness for Beetles" based on the quote given above. It showcases some great photos of beetles from around the world and (currently) featuring 22 different photographers.

© Mik122
So, for a crash course in Beetles... They're fairly easily identified, having two sets (four total) wings, with the more obvious of the two pairs hard and acting like a shell. These shell-like wings are called elytra- they are hard and help protect the beetle from predators. The second pair of wings is soft and membranous and used for flying. They've got chewing mouth parts (often seen eating your bushes and plants) and have a complete life cycle, meaning they have distinct life stages similar to a butterfly. Beetles start out as an egg, and hatch into a grub. These grubs go through a metamorphosis and have a pupae (similar to a chrysalis) and then emerge as adults.

Common groups of beetles include the family Coccinellidae which home to the the ubiquitous Lady Bug or Ladybird Beetles. Most of the members of the family are round, many have spots, and are all approximately the same shape. If you live here in the United States and have taken ladybug photos you may also be be interested in submitting them to The Lost Ladybug Project which is a citizen science effort to locate populations of ladybugs!

© Kone
You may also often see members of the Cerambycidae which are commonly known as Long Horned Beetles. These often bore into trees as grubs, and have been in the media recently with the worries about the Asian Longhorn Borer, and the Emerald Ash Borer both being invasive species here in the US. They generally have slender bodies and long thin antennae, which can be longer than their bodies! They come in a myriad of bright colors, Milkweed bugs also belong to this group.

© Nejron
Members of the family sarabaeidae or Scarab beetles are also very common. This family includes the dung beetles, june bugs, and japanese beetles. Contrary to the way they've been portrayed in various movies like the Mummy and the Mummy Returns etc. They do not eat people, and might try to chew on you, but certainly don't bite.

Weevils, or Family curculionidae also seem to be well represented here on DT. They're an oblong group, with a characteristic "nose" (as seen in the photo on the right). They're primarily plant and grain feeders, and that little guys who eats old oatmeal and pasta in your kitchen cabinets? Yup this is where he goes.

I have to admit the family Buprestidae is one of my favorites, and I have a photo of one of the local ones here, but I've used someone else's photo for this post. They're known commonly as Metallic Wood Boring beetles- and come in all sorts of colors and patterns, but all have a metallic sheen to them,. They live in trees both as larvae and adults, but are often found when they're flying around.

Chrysomelidae, or Leaf beetles are the last big group I see represented here. They come in many shapes and sizes and all feed as both larvae and adults on plants. Many feed on what most people could would call weeds, but many are important plant pests. The 10-Line or Colorado Potato Beetles (write your text here) is pictured here, and is very economically important.

Other groups that are exciting and people seem to really like are the Ground Beetles (families Tenebrionidae and Carabidae), the Tiger Beetles (Cicindellidae), the Click Beetles (Elateridae), and BessBugs (Passalidae)

Photo credits: Alexmax, Igor Sinitsyn, Nikola Bilic, Mikhail Kokhanchikov, Nejron, Jon Yuschock, Shariff Che\' Lah, Ivan Mikhaylov.

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November 09, 2008


This level of accuracy is most welcome. I sometimes require images of uncommon fruits, vegetables, herbs, etc., for designs for food packaging. Often times, I haven't a clue what these things look like and would love to be able to trust people's keywords more. If a photographer has a portfolio of images that are tagged as you describe, you gain credibility and this can only lead to more downloads. Fantastic post.

November 09, 2008


Excellent posting - I also have noticed that the identification of insects, animals, and plants is weak. I use google and wikipedia, and often can find the Latin name in less than 5 minutes. Although I'm definitely NOT an expert, since there are lots of my photos where I just have no clue.

Another potential place to find an ID is on the ID Please group on Flickr. The folks there are very helpful.

November 07, 2008


I sure need your help if I get to submit one in the next weeks. Great blog indeed!

November 07, 2008


it always amazes me the detail in such small creatures, when shot up close you get to see all the bits and pieces!! Great blog!

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