“Write an essay on colour in animals”, they said. I missed that lesson, and it’s haunted me ever since.
I’m sure they would have covered aposematism. It’s a way of advertising yourself to predators by making yourself as visible as possible, with the intention of signalling that you are toxic or distasteful. Trichodes alvearius is a species of soldier or chequered beetle which does exactly that. It’s a vivid red and black and easy to see in this meadow in Rome.
In Germany it’s known as Zottiger Bienenkäfer, which translates as the Shaggy Bee Beetle, which is apt since it’s very hairy. The Dutch call it the Behaarde Bijenwolf, which is the Hairy Beewolf. There’s no common name for it in English.
In the UK the species Trichodes alvearius and another, the Bee-Eating Beetle, Trichodes apiarius, “Have not been seen since the 19th century and are likely to be extinct.”
You may think that’s not important, after all, it’s just a beetle.
Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Each species is an essential part of the complex ecosystem and has plants, fungi, bacteria, birds, reptiles, mammals and even sometimes people who rely on it being there.
There’s a beetle shaped hole in the very fabric of life. There’s a beetle shaped hole in all our lives.