Medium: Ink on paper
Size: 6 X A4 (210mm by 297mm)
Date of completion: 20th Oct 2014
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
The word “coleoptera”, derived from the Greek words “Koleos” which stands for “sheath”, and “Pteron” for “wing”. Hence they were dubbed the “sheathed wings” because of their hardy and thick shell like upper wings overlapping and serving as a ‘sheath’ for the soft folded inner wings. This series of works depict the fictional domestication of various beetles from ancient cultures across the globe.
These colossal beetles rapidly evolved since the Jurassic age of the dinosaurs, having grown from the size of a small leaf to the 30 feet tall giants by the time the first humans roamed the Earth. Having out classed all of its predators in sheer size and becoming the largest known insects of the world. The giant beetle larvae scour the forests devouring huge amounts of trees after they hatch and then spend almost a decade buried underground as a pupa before resurfacing as a fully-grown adult. Once they reach maturity the beetles could easily live up to century or longer.
Their longevity has spurred many old cultures to construct considerable structures atop their back carapaces to serve as an efficient means of transport for thousands of years (arguably bested only after the invention of the steam train). Many of such ancient buildings still stand firm on the carcasses of the long dead beetles, proving that even after the creature has died, the constructs need not necessarily be destroyed or abandoned.
They are incredibly versatile in adapting to any kind of diet, making them ideal to being domesticated without much concern for having large amounts of food source. The ancient men has long discovered the use of noise and various smells to replicate the pheromones or sound of beetles of the opposite sex in order to communicate and control the (usually male) domesticated beetle. Thereafter, the giant beetle has been an invaluable companion to humankind in shaping their civilisations, from transporting huge stone bricks in constructions to serving as moving fortresses in times of war.
Having mastered the giant beetles was but one of the many great feats in the long history of mankind’s triumph over the nature’s creations.
1. The Japanese rhinoceros beetle (Allomyrina Dichotoma) aka the “Kabutomushi”. Circa 1878
Literally meaning “Helmeted Bug”, the Japanese rhinoceros beetle is found in the eastern parts of Asia in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. Once trained by samurais and other Japanese infantry to besiege castles and villages in the feudal wars, the “Kabutomushi” has become more of a cultural icon and religious symbol in more recent times ever since their retirement from warfare after the introduction of guns in the Meiji era. Surprisingly, the remaining abandoned beetles found a place in the service of the Buddhist monks who ingeniously managed to tame and pacify the once notorious fighters. The monks built great temples and monuments atop the backs of these giants, of which some are still alive and serve as popular tourist attractions to this day.
2. Chalcosoma Caucasus or Caucasus beetle. Circa 1740
Inhabiting tropical forests many South East Asian regions like Sumatra, Java and the Malay Peninsula, is the Caucasus beetle, one of Asia’s largest beetle species. Other than being the only other rival in size and strength to the Hercules beetle, it is mostly known for its glossy sheen on its body, making the beetle glow almost like a chrome metal car. The early Batak people of Sumatra were the only recorded culture to successfully subjugate and integrate this fearsome looking giant into their society. The tribesmen would often build their iconic boat shaped architecture atop their massive pets. Before the introduction of Islamic laws to the region in 1816, the Batak tribes were apparently famed for being fearsome cannibalistic warriors, who ate their prisoners in times of war as well as criminals amongst their own tribe. In many documented instances, human flesh was also commonly fed to their companion beetles in order to instill an appetite for enemy soldiers on the battlefield.
3. Siamese Rhinoceros beetle (Xylotrupes Gideon). Circa 1350
Renowned as the most aggressive fighting beetles in Asia, the Siamese Rhinoceros beetle, are still widely used in Thailand today for staged beetle fighting tournaments, where the spectators would usually place bets. This is a traditional form of entertainment that has been around for millennia since the rise of the Khmer Empire. Despite their small stature in the rhinoceros beetle family, the Xylotrupes Gideon has displayed impressive intelligence to adopt fighting strategies whether in the sparring ring or on the battlefield. The Siamese rhino beetle was commonly used alongside the royal elephants when the Khmer empire went to war sporadically with their rival kingdoms in the 13th century. Archers and spearmen would rain arrows and toss javelins from above. More often than not, the Siamese Rhino beetle would have to joust and attempt to overturn rival beetles amidst the chaos of battle and it earned a fearsome reputation for being able to out-class much larger adversaries than itself.
4. The Lucanus Cervus aka Stag beetle. Circa AD 396
Commonly found in the forests of Europe, the currently endangered adult Lucanus Cervus is known to have the one of the shortest lifespan of all stag beetles despite their size, living only up to 40-50 years as opposed to the average 120 years of other giant beetles. Though the European Stag beetle has been domesticated for transportation and warfare since the times of the ancient Greece, it was most famously utilized by the Roman Empire, who for the first time in human history, managed to breed them in large numbers in a for their ambitious conquests into Britain, Italy and Egypt. The thousands of bred stag beetles served as both as offensive and defensive machines of war that effectively besieged whole cities and safeguarded Roman territories for five centuries. Advanced Catapults and wooden forts (that could be easily dismantled) were mounted on their backs, on which the Roman centurions would rain arrows of fire upon their foes. The Stag beetle would then go on to be used by the knights of England in their many crusades, ultimately playing a crucial role in Europe’s long and bloody history of conflicts.
5. Asian Long-horned beetle (Anoplophora Glabripennis) aka “Sky beetle”/ “ALB”. Circa AD 800
The Long-horned beetle is comprised of about 36 different species that inhabit throughout Asia. Back in ancient China the Long-horned beetle was a common sight within the Imperial capitals serving as glorified beasts of transportation for the emperors and government officials of the state. The practice of lavishly decorating and building temples and miniature palaces on the Long-horned beetles was believed to have been introduced during the golden age of the Tang dynasty, where it was written that hundreds of these giant “carriages” for the rich travelled to and from the capital city of Chang’an. Ironically, the Asian Long-horned beetles, which were once cherished as royal commodities have been reduced to hated pests in the modern age, where it’s accidental introduction into western soil has caused a huge overpopulation in their numbers, destroying large quantities of forests, crops and in many cases, wooden architecture like houses and furniture, costing the country billions in property damages.
6. The Dynastes Hercules aka the Hercules beetle. Circa 1438
The Hercules is arguably the most renowned and largest of the rhinoceros beetle species in the modern age due to its iconic “jaw-like” horns it uses for jousting with other males over mating territory. Native to the rain forests of central and South America, it was domesticated by ancient Inca Empire. The Incan army had no access to iron or steel at the time and thus they constructed tents, watchtowers and fortresses mostly out of wood, cane, copper or animal pelts. They had the most formidable military in the region at the time for they had the ability to train ordinary farmers and workers into soldiers ready for combat in an absurdly short span of time, the same goes for their domesticated beetles.
Set in an alternative world, was a great empire where mankind, through remarkable breakthroughs in the fields of bioengineering and architecture, have succeeded in breeding and taming giant creatures with inflated lifespans to serve as transportation or machines of war. The leap in technology opened up endless possibilities and the empire swiftly expanded and flourished. As the people built vast structures atop the bodies of the beasts to serve their needs, they grew increasingly negligent towards other technological options such as mechanical engineering. Resulting in an alternate universe where humans chose to take direct possession over nature's life forms rather than to constantly burn fossil fuels to power their mechanical inventions.
This ink on scroll paper drawing was done as part of my graduation show recently, which is the reason i was absent from digital painting for awhile this year:/