Not all owners go for cute and cuddly, some get the beetle bug

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 April, 2010, 12:00am

When it comes to pets, not everyone goes for cute and cuddly. Some owners want a pet that is interesting and rewarding, but doesn't require too much work. Two years ago Peter Sze turned his love of beetles into a hobby of breeding and caring for the six-legged insects.

'I like the way they look,' Sze says. 'Some people like birds, fish or cute animals, but I prefer beetles.'

In Sheung Wan, Sze's output centre doubles as a small beetle shop (The Beetle Station, Shop L/G, 287-299 Queen's Road, The Centre Mark, tel: 9466 3607). From the outside, beetle fans will notice about 12 glass cases containing medium- to large-sized Hercules and Stag beetles. Sze reveals he has about 200 beetles and larvae in the shop. He points to the towers of cardboard boxes stacked around the room. A rectangular hole on the side of box reveals clear plastic tubs filled with ground-up decaying wood that looks like dirt. Stacked on the shelves, table tops and floor are dozens of similar plastic tubs filling the space.

Tunneling and roaming inside the rotting wood are beetle larvae. To the untrained eye, both Stag and Hercules beetle larvae appear relatively similar in their worm-like shape and creamy coloured exterior. But after one to two years, they will transform from larvae into skeletal ivory-like pupa, and finally into Hercules or Stag beetles.

The shiny black Hercules beetles (Dynastes tityus) are the most famous and largest of the rhinoceros beetles, with some growing as long as 18 centimetres. As a gigantic curved horn extends out from the thorax and head, these beetles with Herculean strength are said to be the strongest creatures on earth for their size, and strength to carry 850 times their own body weight.

Coming from a pool of about 1,200 beetles in the Lucanidae family, Stag beetles, also called pinching beetles, are known for their jaws that are largely developed in males and look similar to a stag's elaborately branched antlers. While Stag beetles only grow to about 12cm, their mandibles can pack a pinch. If provoked, some Stag beetles' mandibles are strong enough to draw blood from a person.

Every day, Sze only has to do one thing for his live beetles - feed them a diet of insect jelly.

To make their glass homes ultracomfortable, a thick padding of wood chips that resemble soft moss are placed at the base, and a food dish makes the home complete.

According to Sze, prices for beetles depend on the size. You can buy male and female Stag beetles for about HK$250 (about 7cm) a pair, while a large Hercules beetle (about 13cm) will set you back about HK$1,000. A glass case costs about HK$150 and you would need to set aside about HK$100 a month for food.

What Sze finds interesting is the metamorphosis from a larva to a beetle. He shows me a plastic tub with a 10-centimetre larva.

Next, he opens another tub to reveal a pupa. Then Sze takes out a Hercules beetle that has not developed its gigantic horn. But many times after a two-year wait he is as proud as a new parent, describing the transformation as 'amazing'.

Did you know?

If, like Peter Sze, you find beetles fascinating, here are some fun facts for you to consider:

Hercules Beetle

As one of the largest of all beetles, Hercules beetles are also called unicorn beetles and can mainly be found in the rainforests of Central and South America. The length and development of their horn is allometric - it does not grow in proportion to its body size. Females do not have any horns at all, and usually have a longer and bigger body than a male, when measured from eyes to abdomen.

Stag Beetle

Some stag beetles grow to more than 12cm, but the average stag is about 5cm. To win prime mating sites, male stag beetles fight other males with their jaw, similar to the way a male deer will fight over a female. Some larva of Stag beetles spend up to seven years living in dead wood before becoming an adult, then dying months after mating.