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Any of at least 250,000 species of insects constituting the order Coleoptera (the largest order in the animal kingdom), characterized by special forewings, called elytra, which are modified into hardened covers over a second pair of functional wings. Beetles occur in almost all environments except Antarctica and the peaks of the highest mountains. Temperate zones have fewer beetle species than the tropics but in greater numbers. The smallest species are less than 0.04 in. (1 mm) long; the largest can exceed 8 in. (20 cm). Most beetles eat either other animals or plants; some eat decaying matter. Some species destroy crops, timber, and textiles and spread parasitic worms and diseases. Others are valuable predators of insect pests. Some beetles are known by other common names (e.g., borer, chafer, curculio, firefly, weevil). Beetles are preyed on by other insects and by bats, swifts, and frogs.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on beetle, visit Britannica.com.