Strongyline Darklings

Tenebrionidae, Tenebrioninae, Strongylini.

Some of the world's most spectacular darkling beetles belong to this tribe, which attains its greatest diversity in the wet, tropical parts of South America. They are mostly medium to large (BL 1—3 cm) and often brilliantly hued in metallic blue, green, or shiny black base colors. Many species are spotted with bright red, yellow, orange, or blue. A number of dull black and white species are strongly convex and broad (Cuphotes fig. 9.2j), resembling and entering into mimetic associations with giant fungus beetles (Cypher otylus).

Strongylium (fig. 9.2d) is a common genus with approximately 320 species in the New World tropics whose bright colors and unusual patterns often attract attention. Some species show strong sexual dimorphism, the males having lobster claw-shaped fore tibae that must have a forceful but unknown function in copulation (Tri-plehorn 1985).


Triplehorn, C. A. 1985. A remarkable example of sexual dimorphism in Strongylium (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae). Coleop. Bull. 39: 25-27.


Tenebrionidae, Zopherinae, Zopherini,

Zopherus chilensis.

Like all members of the genus Zopherus, the ma'kech (fig. 9.2e) is a fairly large (BL 34—40 mm) beetle with an extremely thick, hard integument. Despite its hardness, the elytron can be scored easily with a sharp instrument, having the physical properties of an extremely dense wax. The very rough or granulate back of the beetle is largely white with dark rectangular or irregular black blotches showing through. The head is retracted into the thorax.

Little is recorded regarding its life history. Adults are found on the bark of dead trees in whose wood the larvae probably mine (Burke 1976). Other species in the same genus have been reared from specimens found in rotten wood and the larvae described (Doyen and Lawrence 1979). It is believed that adults seldom, if ever, eat and can live a year or more without food, but this is unproven. Adults feed freely in the laboratory on cereal food provided them (Doyen pers. comm.).

The species' distribution runs from southern Mexico to Venezuela and Colombia (Triplehorn 1972). Local people collect them in Yucatán and make them into a curious, living pendant by gluing baubles to their backs and fixing them to a short pin and chain. The novelty of a tethered jewel beetle on the lapel never fails to attract attention. Such specimens are sold locally as good luck charms and traditional reminders of an ancient Yucatecan legend.

A young Mayan prince was saved from capture by his lover's guards by being turned into this beetle by the Moon Goddess. In the language of the time, ma'kech meant "thou art a man," as uttered by the maiden in appreciation of his courageous-ness in overcoming obstacles in their path to love; it also meant "does not eat," in reference to the prince's (and beetle's) ability to endure prolonged fasts (Wright 1956). Although many specimens make their way abroad in tourists' luggage, it is doubtful that the species could be established elsewhere and become a pest.


Burke, H. R. 1976. The beetle, Zopherus nodulosus haldemani: Symbol of the Southwestern Entomological Society. Southwest. Nat. 1: 105-106.

Doyen, J. T., and J. F. Lawrence. 1979. Relationships and higher classification of some Tenebrionidae and Zopheridae (Coleoptera). Syst. Entomol. 4: 333-337. Triplehorn, C. A. 1972. A review of the genus Zopherus of the world (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae). Smithsonian Contrib. Zool. 108: 1-24. Wright, N. P. 1956. A living luck charm. Nat. Hist. 65: 410-411, 445-446.

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