Christmas Beetle

Christmas Beetle Anoplognathus spp.

December in our part of the world seems synonymous with the appearance of the Christmas beetle. They seem to clumsily blunder around external house lights and are a constant source of fascination for many children. Their navigational system is somewhat put off kilter by artificial light and this is why they are found on the ground nearby seemingly lost and dazed.

Warm summer nights are when the beetles make their way from their subterranean birthplaces and fly off to the nearest eucalyptus tree where they forage. Where I grew up in the Central West of NSW there was one tree that was practically denuded each year by Christmas beetles, and each year we watched with hope that the poor tree would bounce back from the marauding swarms once again.

The Christmas beetle is from the scarab family with more than 30,000 species worldwide – that’s a lot of cousins! Australia has 35 different Christmas beetles ranging from 15-40mm long. Most have the characteristic gold or brown metallic jeweled sheen, although there are some which are vibrant greens and pinks. They spend most of their one to two year life cycle underground, first as eggs deposited by females in the soil in late summer, then hatching into grubs that feed on grass roots over winter and pupating in spring. Finally they emerge in November and December as adults.

There is no doubt that these critters have diminished in urban areas and the Australian Museum has written an article on the demise of Christmas in Sydney. 

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