BEETLE BATTLES

Science  05 Oct 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5847, pp. 25a
DOI: 10.1126/science.318.5847.25a

Collecting stag beetles is a long-established hobby for Japanese boys. But things are now getting out of hand: Thanks to an arcade game called Mushi (insect) King, the beetles are all over Japan, and one subspecies is becoming endangered in its native habitat in Turkey.

In Mushi King, players collect cards with the picture and vital statistics of one of various beetle species. By inserting the card into the game machine, players control their bug in virtual fights. The game has spurred interest in exotic beetles, leading to imports of more than a million a year, according to Koichi Goka, an entomologist at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba. Prize bugs sell over the Internet for $400 or more.

Hot beetle.CREDIT: BENJAMIN HARINK

This year's hottest beetle is Lucanus cervus akbesianus, a rare subspecies found only in the Amanos Mountains of southern Turkey. The Amanos Environmental Protection Association has warned that overharvesting is pushing this beetle toward extinction.

In Japan, meanwhile, Goka worries that the beetle battle might move into the real world if the aliens escape and breed, with the big foreign bugs muscling out their weaker domestic rivals. “It is not an actual problem yet, but there is a big risk,” Goka says. But, he says, the Environment Ministry hesitates to designate stag beetles as an invasive species because “the market has already become too large to control.”

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