Main Page Russian Version  
Previous Up Deep Next


Dicranocephalus adamsi (Scarabaeidae)
Drawing by S.I. Medvedev

Beetles or Coleoptera are one of approximately 30 orders of the class of Insecta. The Order of Coleoptera is in many respects sharply distinguished from other insects and is the favourite subject of study of both, professional scientists and naturalists.


The beetles are the largest order including more species known to science than any other order not only in the Class of Insecta, but also in the entire animal kingdom (Animalia). The most authoritative calculations indicate that already now more than 350,000 species of beetles have been described. Every year approximately 2000 new species are described (Zoological Record). Taking into account that the entire fauna of the earth is considered to include approximately 1,400,000 species it can be stated that beetles constitute more than a quarter of all known animals. Moreover, recent attempts of total collections of insects from several species of tropical trees in the basin of the Amazon River have shown that 50% of beetles found by this method are new (Erwin, 1982; 1997). Faunae from different species of trees are so very different from one another that it is possible to predict discovery of several hundreds of thousands or even millions of beetle species and according to some evaluations up to 7 million species.


Beetles are most abundant in the tropics; but at the same time they have got adapted to life at all latitudes and in nearly every habitat, to feeding on any substances of organic origin. Therefore, beetles are nearly ubiquitous. They have not been found on the Antarctic Continent yet, but inhabit the subantarctic islands, they have not been found in the open sea, but are abundant on sea coasts, they have not been found beyond the boundary of eternal snows, but very interesting species of beetles occur high in the mountains in the summer immediately close to this boundary. Many species of beetles attain large numbers. The above explains why the beetles are so well known. Beetles, as well as cats, dogs and birds are the first animals that a small child who begins to talk, learns to recognize.


Beetles are extremely diverse not only in size and colour, but also in body shape, sculpture of external cover, presence of various outgrowths, etc. Butterflies probably excel beetles in the splendour of colours, however, beetles have no match in the fantastic diversity of forms. Therefore beetles are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for writers, sculptors, artists, ornamenters and pattern-designers. Perhaps for this reason and also due to the extreme simplicity of storage of dead specimens beetles are a favourite object of collecting.


Many species of beetles are serious pests of agriculture and forestry, stored food, wood, leathers, furs, fabric. Other species, vice versa, are disturbed as a result of man's economic activity; they are permanently declining in numbers or become extinct. Some common species of beetles respond sensitively to the state of natural environment and may serve as convenient indicators of anthropogenic pollution. Therefore, knowledge of beetles is indispensable not only to professional zoologists, but also to plant protection specialists, agriculturists, arboriculturists, museum specialists and workers of food processing industry, ecologists, staff of reserves and specialists in many other areas.


All insects are studied by a special field of zoology - entomology. The study of beetles in its turn has long ago become a separate branch of entomology, coleopterology. Accordingly, specialists studying beetles are called coleopterists.


At the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (hereinafter referred to as ZIN) coleopterology has long and famous traditions. Coleopterological study conducted at ZIN is based upon the Institute's collection containing now not less than 6 million of specimens. The collection was started as early as 1714 by Peter the Great when the Kunstkammer was established. A jump in the development of study of beetles is associated with to the name of E. Menetries, a world-famous entomologist . After him a series of prominent coleopterists including A.F. Moravitz, A.P. Semenov-Tian-Shansky, G.G. Jacobson, A.N. Reichardt, A.A. Richter, E.L. Gurjeva, M.E. Ter-Minasian, and O.L. Kryzhanovsky worked at ZIN.


Presently the Coleoptera Department of the Laboratory of Insect Taxonomy, ZIN, is headed by the well-known entomologist Gleb Medvedev. The Department has on its staff 6 researchers and 3 technicians. Several more researchers formally belonging to other units of ZIN also work at the Coleoptera Department. Our small team and the extensive collection have been generally accepted as the informal centre of coleopterological research in Russia and in the states that formerly were a part of the USSR. Our research and our collection retain their world-wide importance. The Department permanently receives foreign specialists; and our scientists invited by their foreign colleagues visit western museums every year. Keys to beetles, monographs, and revisions of separate taxa prepared and published here have been traditionally highly evaluated by colleagues and are used both in Russia and abroad.


Considering the growing importance of publications in the Internet as a means of integration of scientific research on a world-wide scale and propaganda of scientific achievements our team decided to establish and maintain in the Internet our own Web-site devoted to beetles and coleopterists. We hope that with the assistance of our colleagues from other institutions we will be able to make this site interesting and rich in original information.

Andrei Lobanov, 1999