Readers’ wildlife photos

February 18, 2019 • 7:30 am

Today’s set of beetle photos comes from a regular, Jacques Hausser, who lives in Switzerland. His notes are indented. A “cockchafer” is not a woolen undergarment, but a species of brown beetle found in Europe that used to be a pest on grass and crops, especially during its periodic outbreaks.

When I was a schoolboy in the fifties, every third year was a cockchafer year. We used to hunt the clumsy critters at the sunset by shaking the trees – and also more sportingly in flight, with badminton racquets. We were paid by the town: ten cents for a full bucket of the unfortunate insects, then given to the chickens. But, alas, plane-sprayed insecticides (now forbidden) soon suppressed this attractive source of income, and the cockchafers all but disappeared. I think that from the seventies onward, I haven’t seen any here around. Until last summer, that is, when my daughter bicycling back from work discovered she had a large one (about 30 mm) hooked on her pants. Here it is in full glory: a male Melolontha melolontha, family Scarabeidae, subfamily Melolonthinae.

If the cockchafer is now very rare in western Switzerland, other species are still present. Like the cockchafer itself, all of them are a nightmare for lawn owners, their white grubs feeding on grass roots. Here is the slightly smaller (about 25 mm) June chafer, Amphimallon solsticiale, a female. They have a two-year cycle instead of three.

Amphimallon atrum, another species of the same genus.

Serica brunnea, a small species.

 Phyllopertha horticola, the garden chafer, at work on a wild rose, eating pollen (or maybe only the filaments of the stamens: note the discarded anthers on the lower petal of the flower). Note also  that they can fold and hide their antennae when eating. Even if it looks quite like a chafer and has a similar biology (two or three year life cycle, white grubs eating the roots of your lawn) it is usually classified in another subfamily, the Rutelinae.

Same species – with antennae. I like the shadows.

Closely related, but not exactly a chafer (it is called a “Monkey beetle”): although usually classified either in Melolonthinae or Rutelinae, depending on the specialist you consult, Hoplia argentea differs from the other species presented here by having only one claw on each leg and by its cover of scales producing interference colors (pale blue or yellow-green). This one is sharing a wild Angelica with two species of ants. The large one is probably Formica fusca and the small one Lasius fuliginosus, but I’m not sure…

12 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Beetle grubs are only a problem if you are obsessed with the uniform green golf course style lawns, and what a silly thing that is! For me, the bigger nightmare is the decline of such lovely species. I grew up in the Midwest in the 1980’s, and I remember summer nights where porch lights attracted hundereds of what we generically called “June bugs”. Walking up to a front door was quite a crunchy affair, if you weren’t careful where you placed your feet. Today you’re lucky to get single digits.

    1. Yes, I think those green lawn ideals are a big problem. Urban lawns are poisonous to life as they are full of herbicides and insecticides. Some are banned in Canada now but since they are available in the US, Canadians simply drive there & load up on barrels of the poison to dump on their lawns.

      1. Sad and disturbing, isn’t it? Equally so is the practice found at many homes around the Lake of the Ozarks, where my parents now reside. Summer people from the cities hate the “weeds” and trees, so they bulldoze all the plant life from their hillside properties and cover it with gravel. Then of course they must call in the pest control to spray their houses to kill any insects and spiders that have survived the onslaught. People are sick.

        1. Have you considered letting a big rectangle “go natural” while keeping the peripheral part “fit and proper”, to show everyone that you can do it and the effect of the rectangle is desired?

          The ides came to me from a combination of gardening styles used by some people in my district. They plant tulips, primroses etc. in rectangles and periodically mow the other part, resulting in a green lawn. The idea is to give children a lawn to tread on with the hope that they will be happy with it and will spare (some of) the planted flowers.

  2. It is true, cockchafers, in German Maikäfer (bugs that appear in May), have become a rare species over the years. In my youth there were plenty and we used to sing the following folksong:

    Maikäfer, flieg!
    Der Vater ist im Krieg.
    Die Mutter ist im Pommerland.
    Und Pommerland ist abgebrannt.

    We children did not know how true the words were. Fly away cockchafer! Father is at war and mother lives in Pomerania that soon became devasteted by the Red Army.

    1. At least Europe seems less uniform green lawn obsessed. In North America you’re some sort of social outcast if your lawn has a dandelion on it or some clover (which is actually healthy for the lawn).

  3. I don’t doubt that – if the data exist – they would show a decline in cockchafers in the UK too. I can remember as a child it was a common experience for them to come in through the bedroom window and then crash crazily around the ceiling light. I’m sure that doesn’t happen so much now.
    Having said that I have experienced moth trapping nights quite recently when the lamp has attracted large numbers of them so if you hit the right night in the right place there are still some to be found.

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