An Extreme Beetle

On Exhibit posts

It’s no accident this powerful beetle takes its name from a mythological hero who was most famous for his strength. Thanks to their exoskeleton, Hercules beetles (Dynastes hercules) can lift many hundreds of times their own weight.

Hercules Beetle

Male Hercules Beetles (Dynastes Hercules) use their impressive horns in wrestling matches over mates.

©AMNH/R.Mickens 


In males, this strength is on display while they compete for mates.
 In 1947, noted naturalist William Beebe (a research associate at the Museum from 1925 until his death in 1962) described the mating ritual, in which two Hercules males rush at each other until one securely grasps the other and then rears up to a nearly vertical stance, with all the drama of a professional wrestling match.

“At the zenith of this pose [the dominant beetle] rests upon the tip of the abdomen and the tarsi of the hind legs, the remaining four legs outstretched in midair, and the opponent held sideways, kicking impotently,” Beebe wrote. “This posture is sustained for from two to as many as eight seconds, when the victim 
is either slammed down, or is carried away in some indefinite direction to some indeterminate distance, at the end of which the banging to earth will take place.”

Along with their strength, Hercules beetles, which are found in Central and South America and a few Caribbean islands, are also notable for their size: they are among the largest of the rhinoceros beetles (Dynastinae), a subfamily of the scarab beetle family (Scarabaeidae). The two sexes of the beetle look quite different, with the female lacking the horns that distinguish the male. Hercules males are also much larger than females, and can grow as long as 7 inches (including their horns). That’s more than twice as long as the largest female of the species.  

Hercules Beetle

The climbable Hercules Beetle should be a hit with young visitors. 

©AMNH/D.Finnin


A huge model of the Hercules beetle, ready for the kids to climb on and explore, will be on display at the Museum later in just a couple of months as part of the upcoming exhibit, Life at the Limits: Stories of Amazing Species, which opens April 4.

A version of this article appears in the Winter issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.