Bugs of wonder in our backyard

Bugs of wonder in our backyard

An expert has made it his mission to study and popularise Hong Kong's fascinating array of beetles


Hong Kong is home to a variety of beetle species from scarab beetles to the newly discovered tiger beetle and the Mai Po bent-winged firefly.
Hong Kong is home to a variety of beetle species from scarab beetles to the newly discovered tiger beetle and the Mai Po bent-winged firefly.
Photos: Yiu Vor
Beetles are everywhere. In fact, they account for a quarter of all life forms on Earth, with some 400,000 species.

These beetles can be poles apart. While some may scare us, others will take our breath away.

In Hong Kong alone, around 10,000 beetle species thrive, including stag beetles, scarab beetles, and leaf beetles.

Yiu Vor finds them all fascinating. Yiu is chairman of the Hong Kong Entomological Society and a long-time fan of the bizarre, ferocious and beautiful world of hard-winged bugs.

He has spent the past 15 years studying insects with a focus on beetles. His favourite pastime is to visit beetle hotspots in Tai Mo Shan, Tai Po Kau and Pok Fu Lam.

After 600 field trips, his footsteps have covered most of the accessible beetle-spotting places in Hong Kong.

The territory, he says, owes its beetle diversity to its location, landforms and climate.

"Hong Kong sits in the sub-tropical zone where beetles' food sources like plants are diverse and plentiful," Yiu explains. "Many bugs can also find safe shelter in the territory's remarkable array of landforms - from mountains and gorges to marshes and mangroves."

In the mid-19th century, Hong Kong was a battle ground for European taxonomists - people who classified organisms. They uncovered numerous new species, such as the small dung beetle (Onthophagus luridipennis) and the small leaf beetle (Aoria nigripes). Many Hong Kong insect specimens were put on display in the British Museum in London and the National History Museum in Paris.

In 2001 and 2011, researchers discovered two new species: a tiger beetle (Probstia astoni) and the Mai Po bent-winged firefly. Both of them are believed to be unique to Hong Kong.

In 2005, Yiu saw a yellow-spotted black ladybird (Horniolus hisamatsu), which was first recorded in 1967 but not seen afterwards.

His passion for discovery sometimes lands him in awkward situations - like his search for buried beetles in Tai Mo Shan in 2008.

"I found a dead porcupine that reeked from 30 metres away," Yiu recalls. "I had to buy a gas mask and odour filter to cover my face.

"But that made me look like a terrorist poking about a decaying animal beside a popular hiking trail. To avoid giving hikers a nightmare, I returned at night to finish my job."

He's also been stung repeatedly. Once during a hike through Long Yuen's farmland, he was trying to identify a bug "when it 'exploded' like firecrackers", Yiu says. "I discovered it was a bombardier beetle."

The bugs store hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide in their body and catalyse them into boiling hot gases to defend themselves.

Yiu has compiled his notes and pictures of about 600 beetle species into the first volume of a three-book encyclopedia. "I want to show young people that there is a fascinating world waiting to be studied and discovered," Yiu says.



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