Beetles are prominent in human culture, from the sacred scarabs of ancient Egypt to beetlewing art and use as pets or fighting insects for entertainment and gambling. Many beetle groups are brightly and attractively coloured making them objects of collection and decorative displays. Over 300 species are used as food, mostly as larvae; species widely consumed include mealworms and rhinoceros beetle larvae. However, the major impact of beetles on human life is as agricultural, forestry, and horticultural pests. Serious pests include the boll weevil of cotton, the Colorado potato beetle, the coconut hispine beetle, and the mountain pine beetle. Most beetles, however, do not cause economic damage and many, such as the lady beetles and dung beetles are beneficial by helping to control insect pests.
Beetle genera were mainly saprophages (detritivores) in the Permian and Triassic. During the Jurassic, herbivorous and then carnivorous genera became more common. In the Cenozoic, genera at all three trophic levels became far more numerous.
- Late Paleozoic
The oldest known fossil insect that unequivocally resembles a Coleopteran is from the Lower Permian Period about 270 million years ago (mya), though these members of the family Tshekardocoleidae have 13-segmented antennae, elytra with more fully developed venation and more irregular longitudinal ribbing, and abdomen and ovipositor extending beyond the apex of the elytra.
Beetles are generally characterized by a particularly hard exoskeleton and hard forewings (elytra) not usable for flying.