… and where to find them
A curious creature scuttles along on six legs, sporting impressive horns that measure half the length of its body. Its metallic surface shimmers with all the colours of the rainbow. This might sound like the description of a mythical beast, but it is in fact a real animal – one that, as of recently, can even be found in Berlin.
Somewhere over the rainbow
This magnificent insect is known as the rainbow stag beetle, and since early August it has been on display at Aquarium Berlin thanks to the efforts of keeper Shahin Tavangari. In the past, beetles have generally only been used to feed the Aquarium’s other inhabitants. But enthusiastic entomologist Tavangari has been working for many months to change that. He dreams of establishing a large, diverse beetle collection right here at Germany’s foremost public aquarium – and now a big step has been taken towards making that dream a reality.
Good things take time
For some time, attentive visitors at Aquarium Berlin will already have marvelled at the sun beetle or the jade-headed buffalo beetle – both of which belong to the scarab-beetle subfamily of flower beetles (Cetoniinae). Male flower beetles stand out because of their horn-like mandibles and the large indentation on the underside of their rigid bodies. They also give off a very intense smell so as to distinguish themselves from other species and to help them tell each other apart. Sun beetles are a relatively easy species to keep. Species such as the rainbow stag beetle, the Atlas beetle, and the Caucasus beetle, however, pose a greater challenge. Aquarium Berlin has already successfully bred the latter (Chalcosoma caucasus), but they are not yet ready to go on display to the public. A period of two to three years is required before visitors to the Aquarium will be able to view this fascinating species. And due to their different development cycles and currently insufficient numbers, those beetle species already on view at the Aquarium may not be visible at all times. The Derby’s flower beetle, for example, is expected to only be on display until the end of October 2017 and then again from April 2018. The rainbow stag beetle will also be out of view for several months over winter. A permanently visible beetle collection will only be achieved over the next few years, and that will require a lot of work behind the scenes.
The challenge of beetle breeding
The care and breeding of almost all aquarium animals is challenging, but keeping beetles can often be the most demanding discipline. The particular diet required by many beetle species is not always easy to provide, and breeding conditions create many difficulties. Beetle larvae, known as grubs, are particularly sensitive during their pupal stage and must be raised in separate substrates. Separated rearing with one grub per beaker ensures that the insects do not eat one other or have their development stunted through stress caused by immediate neighbours. However, this method does not necessarily guarantee that every grub will develop into a beetle.
It’s all about trust
Aquarium Berlin acquires the beetle species it needs for its new breeding programme from specialised breeders. It is impossible to determine the age of a fully developed beetle, which – depending on the species – can live for three to 12 months. Beetle buyers therefore need to place a great amount of trust in the breeder, as there is a risk that the specimen being sold is already old and only has a few more days to live. So far, however, Shahin Tavangari has been fortunate: his behind-the-scenes beetle stock has been thriving.
Coccinellidae? What’s that?
It may sound like an unfamiliar Italian pasta dish, but Coccinellidae are actually a very common presence in our gardens: ladybirds! Few beetles have common names; the vast majority of beetle species only go by their scientific classification, which can make them less appealing and more difficult to remember than other aquarium inhabitants. The team at Aquarium Berlin have therefore set to work thinking up new, catchier names for certain beetle species. The names are often derived from their scientific monikers or their preferred habitat. The Chlorocala smaragdina has therefore been given the German name Smaragdrosenkäfer (emerald flower beetle), and the Eudicella hornimani from Cameroon has been christened the Hornimannsrosenkäfer (Horniman flower beetle) – the latter, incidentally, is another species that will go on display in Berlin in the future.
Shahin Tavangari’s long-term goal is to have a plethora – and above all a wide variety – of beetles on display at the Aquarium, sorted according to the part of the world they come from. Each terrarium will contain several species from a specific region. The vision is for every terrarium to be constantly bustling with many small and several medium-sized beetles, and for individual large beetles to be alternated regularly. If kept together, a more dominant large beetle would kill a weaker specimen – but large beetles generally live peacefully alongside other beetle species. If the Aquarium’s beetle plans are a success, the zoo with the largest variety of species in the world will finally add at least a few of the earth’s 350,000 known beetle species to its list.
The fascinating world of beetles
While the details surrounding the planned beetle breeding programme may be complex, the result is very simple: soon there will be even more fantastic beasts to discover at Aquarium Berlin thanks to the hard work of keeper Shahin Tavangari. Shiny or matt, colourful or black, with three or even four “horns” – the new beetle collection is sure to make the already wonderful world of Aquarium Berlin even more amazing.