One of the best things about beetling for me is that I can never be bored: there are always new beetles to be seen and always more to learn. It’s also one of the worst things about beetling: there will always be loads of beetles I haven’t managed to see and loads of things I should know but don’t!
In twenty years of beetling in Britain and Ireland, I’ve made 33,453 records of beetles, from 525 different 10-km squares and on average seen a new beetle every 3.3 days. So it doesn’t feel like I’ve been mucking about at it! But take a look at this graph:
There are two really surprising things about this graph. Firstly, I’ve only seen just over half the British and Irish beetle fauna (the red line marks the half-way point). And secondly, my list has grown in pretty much a straight line for 20 years and I’m still seeing new beetles at about the same rate as when I started. Clearly I am still on the steep beginners’ part of the learning curve with no sign that I’m approaching the broad, sunlit plateau of being a beetle expert!
It just shows what a big job it is to get to know all the British and Irish beetles. I once had the chance to pick the brains of veteran coleopterist Alex Williams during a car journey and got onto the subject of aleocharine staphylinids and the many obstacles that have to be overcome to be able to identify this group. I was looking for advice, or at least sympathy! But Alex’s simple yet profound response was “Well, we wouldn’t be coleopterists if we didn’t enjoy a challenge!”.
Alex is right. Coleoptera is a big, challenging group, guaranteed to last a lifetime and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I’m glad that it is getting easier to identify beetles. And anyone taking up the challenge of beetles now should be able to hit the half-way mark in much quicker time.