With the festive season rapidly approaching, I have noticed Christmas beetles making their annual appearance at my home, especially this morning when I was awoken by the sight of a tiny beetle on my pillow.
The Christmas beetle (Anoplognathus species) is a member of the family Scarabaeidae (also referred to as scarabs) and is one of 35 species of Christmas beetles. As their name suggests, these insects are seasonal and are most active during the warmer months, especially during the festive season.
Did you know that these beetles live on average for between one and two years? The adult female lays around 20-30 eggs in the soil during the December and January months. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will then burrow their way into the soil and feed on decomposing organic matter and grass roots during the winter months. With the arrival of the spring season, they move closer to the surface, constructing a chamber out of soil in which to pupate. A few weeks later, adult Christmas beetles will emerge, flying off to feed and reproduce. By the time you see a Christmas beetle, they are almost at the end of their life cycle, having spent a whole year as a soil-eating grub!
As a child, I used to love seeing these beetles and considered it good luck seeing them coming my way. But, at this stage of my life, I see things a bit differently. Christmas beetles found in South Africa are dull brown in colour and do not attract much attention, although they definitely have when they have destroyed my rose garden!
Christmas beetles can be seen clumsily climbing trees (which I might add that they don’t have the best grip ever, as I see them falling down often, even considering their jagged tarsal claws!) and feed on the leaves of trees. One can see them making zigzag cuts on the leaves, shredding them as the go about their feeding frenzy. These beetles have a definite preference to an individual tree species – their favourite is the leaves of eucalyptus trees. It has even been reported that Christmas beetles have destroyed eucalyptus woodlands, killing off mature trees!
As they are nocturnal insects, one would not often see them feeding, but rather just the after-effects of the damage they cause. Christmas beetles sure do know how to leave behind a nasty Christmas gift, don’t they?
These beetles are attracted to light and one will often see them slowly lumbering indoors towards the light, which is why I will most definitely shut my window and turn off my bedroom light to avoid waking up next to one again! One can also hear them chirping in a whirring tone during the hot summer days.
It would not be advisable using pesticide to get rid of these insects, unless you want to kill off your rose garden before they do. In any case, these insects are seasonal and the infestation does not last long. If it is a problem however, one can disrupt them by spraying water onto plants, and lay a plastic sheet below the tree, or rose patch and blast them with a spray of water and the grand finale – shaking the tree so all of the beetles fall out onto the plastic sheet. You can them collect them and either throw them over to the neighbour’s property (just kidding!), relocate them to an outlaying field where they won’t be bothering anyone, or kill them – to which I must say the child in me is vigorously shaking her head, not wanting any of the Christmas beetles to be destroyed.
Either way, I am always happy to see a Christmas beetle or two, because that means the festive season is upon us!