Fossil Scarabaeoids

Fossil scarab and stag beetles—150 million years of evolution

Scarab and stag beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeoidea) are particularly hard-shelled beetles. They appeared in the fossil record as early as the Jurassic Period and evolved into one of the largest beetle superfamilies with over 35,000 extant species. While some scarabaeoids are among the largest extant and fossil beetles, such as goliath and rhinoceros beetles, most of them are less than one centimeter long. Sufficiently detailed preservation of such small beetles requires either an extremely fine-grained sediment or embedment in natural resin. The photo shows the holotype of Calcitoryctes magnificus Krell, 2001, a three-dimensionally preserved rhinoceros beetle from the Piocene of Laetoli, Tanzania.

Our current research focuses on fossils from lagerstätten with particularly high-quality insect preservation, such as amber and the oil shales of the Messel Formation (Eocene). Amber provides detailed three-dimensional preservation. In many of the Messel compression fossils, the original structural color is preserved. Both kinds of fossils provide a unique window into the past and help in reconstructing evolution and phylogeny of our study groups.


Chin, K. & Krell, F.-T. 2019. The evolution of complex coprophagous behavior: ichnofossil evidence of brood provisioning and dung relocation by dung beetles in the Late Cretaceous. 11th North American Paleontological Convention, University of California, Riverside, June 23–27, 2019. PaleoBios 36 (Suppl. 1): 100‒101.

Krell, F.-T. 2019. High quality insect preservation—fossils in amber (Baltic, Lebanon, Myanmar) and from the Messel Formation (Eocene, Germany), with emphasis on scarab beetles. Lagerstätten. Exceptional Preservation. Extraordinary Fossils. Western Interior Paleontological Society 11th Founders Symposium, March 23‒24, 2019, Lowry Conference Center, Aurora, Colorado, Program & Abstracts, vol. 11: 39‒42.

Kirejtshuk, A.G., Ponomarenko, A.G., Kurochkin, A.S., Alexeev, A.V., Gratshev V.G., Solodovnikov, A.Y., Krell, F.-T. & Soriano, C. 2019. The beetle (Coleoptera) fauna of the Insect Limestone (Late Eocene), Isle of Wight, southern England. Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 110: 405–492. DOI: 10.1017/S1755691018000865

Tarasov, S., Vaz-de-Mello, F., Krell, F.-T. & Dimitrov, D. 2016. A review and phylogeny of scarabaeine dung beetle fossils (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae), with the description and two Canthochilum species from Dominican amber. PeerJ 4: e1988, 35 pp. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1988

Krell, F.-T. 2014. Pleistocene Dung Beetles from MIS 5 at Ziegler Reservoir, Snowmass Village, Colorado (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Aphodiinae: Aphodiini and Aegialiini). Denver Museum of Nature & Science Annals 5: 1–12. DOI: 10.55485/INYL3767

Krell, F.-T. & Schawaller, W. 2011. Beetles (Insecta: Coleoptera). Pp. 535–548 in: T. Harrison (ed.): Paleontology and Geology of Laetoli: Volume 2: Fossil Hominines and the Associated Fauna. Dordrecht: Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-9962-4_19

Bai, M., Krell, F.T., Ren, D. & Yang, X. 2010. A new, well-preserved species of Glaresidae (Coleoptera: Scarabaeoidea) from the Jehol Biota of China. Acta Geologica Sinica (English Edition) 84 (4): 676-679. DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-6724.2010.00229.x

Krell, F.-T. 2007. Catalogue of fossil Scarabaeoidea (Coleoptera: Polyphaga) of the Mesozoic and Tertiary – Version 2007 –. Denver Museum of Nature & Science Technical Report 2007-8: 79 pp.

Mesozoic and Eocene Amber

Amber provides detailed three-dimensional preservation unsurpassed by any other fossils. I am working on scarabaeoid beetles (scarab and stag beetles) from the Eocene (Baltic) and the Cretaceous (Lebanon and Myanmar), describing many new species of groups different from anything living today.

Eocene Oil Shales of Messel, Germany

The Eocene oil shales of Messel preserve an abundance of insects not only in fine detail, but also with the original structural colors. From the more than 19,000 fossil insects preserved in several German museum collections, I identified around 510 specimens of scarab and stag beetles, ranging from a few millimeters long dung beetles to over five centimeter long stags. This material will be described in several papers, the first of one, on the stag beetles, is currently in preparation in co-authorship with Dr. Sonja Wedmann from the Senckenberg Forschungsstation Grube Messel.


Frank-Thorsten Krell, PhD

Senior Curator of Entomology

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