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Dynastes hercules

  • Live collection
Photo: Insectarium de Montréal, René Limoges

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Description

Like most scarab beetles, the two sexes are easy to tell apart (sexually dimorphic), particularly because of the males’ horns. The males may be 50 to 175 mm long, with two pincer-like horns in front. The elytra (wing covers) are pale greenish-yellow, with widely spaced, irregular black spots and a black border.

The females are 50 to 70 mm long, with a dark brown body covered in reddish-brown fuzz. They do not have horns.

Theme

We live everywhere

Sub-theme

Tropical forests

Section

Real giants

Country of origin

Peru
French name
Dynaste hercule
Scientific name
Dynastes hercules
English name
Hercules beetle
Class
Insecta
Order
Coleoptera
Family
Scarabaeidae
Living environment

Diet

In the wild, adults feed on decaying plant matter and tropical fruit.

Habitat

They live on the ground in the moist tropical forest. The larvae are buried in the soil.

Geographic distribution

The D. hercules hercules sub-species is found only in Guadeloupe. The other sub-species are also found in Martinique, the West Indies and South and Central America.

Ecological role

These insects are said to be detritivorous, because they feed on decaying plant matter – this helps to maintain their ecosystem. They also provide food for other animals, including monkeys and small rodents, helping to maintain a balance in their natural habitat.

Special behaviour

The males become aggressive during mating season, sometimes battling over a female. They sometimes even cut an adversary in half with their pincers, but most often the dominant male is content to simply overturn his opponent. On rare occasions, a male may even kill a female that spurns his advances.

Interesting facts

Status

These insects have been protected in Guadeloupe since 1980, but are not protected in South or Central America or the West Indies.

Popular beliefs

Some people think that these insects are capable of sawing through wood. Legend has it that a male will grasp a young tree shoot in his pincers and fly around it in order to saw it off. Although branches removed in this way may have been found, they are not actually the work of a Dynastes hercules, but of another beetle: a female longhorned Oncyderes amputator beetle.

Some Natives in South America eat these beetles as a way of appropriating their size and strength. The horns and elytra are also made into jewellery in South America. The horns are a symbol of virility for men and are thought to enhance fertility.

Interesting facts and curiosities

These beetles are some of the world’s largest insects. Although they are nocturnal, they are attracted by light. They have been known to fly into a campfire, emerge unscathed and fly straight back in again!

Thanks to a physiological process, they are among the only beetles to be able to change the colour of the elytra almost instantaneously. The wetter it is, the darker they are, and the drier it is, the lighter yellow they turn. They also adjust the humidity level in the space between their elytra and abdomen as a way of controlling their body temperature.

At the Insectarium

In captivity, these beetles eat bananas and other ripe fruit. Despite their threatening appearance, they are harmless to humans.

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