Back­yard visi­tors The Christ­mas bee­tle and dif­fer­ent types of mites

Christ­mas bee­tles, with their beau­ti­ful shim­mer­ing colours, her­ald the start of sum­mer,

Gardening Australia - - DECEMBER - Len gar­dens in the North­ern Rivers, New South Wales writes LEONARD CRONIN

Apart from the ci­cada ser­e­nade and ac­com­pa­ny­ing frog cho­rus, December evenings in our gar­den are syn­ony­mous with the ap­pear­ance of be­jew­elled bee­tles, found blun­der­ing around the house lights. Christ­mas bee­tles emerge from their sub­ter­ranean birth­places on warm sum­mer nights, and fly off to the near­est eu­ca­lypt tree, where they gorge on young leaves. Ar­ti­fi­cial lights dis­rupt their nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, leav­ing them cir­cling help­lessly or re­peat­edly crash­ing into the light source. We find them crawl­ing on the ground dazed and con­fused, or float­ing in the pool.

Christ­mas bee­tles be­long to the scarab fam­ily, which has more than 30,000 species world­wide, in­clud­ing dung bee­tles and cockchafers. Aus­tralia has 35 dif­fer­ent Christ­mas bee­tles, rang­ing from 15–40mm long. Most have the char­ac­ter­is­tic gold or brown metal­lic sheen, although some 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 as adults in late November and December.

These bee­tles used to be ubiq­ui­tous in cen­tral Syd­ney, with mass drown­ings in the har­bour where tree branches, weighed down with masses of bee­tles, leaned into the wa­ter. Over the past few years, how­ever, they have all but dis­ap­peared: vic­tims of ur­ban sprawl and the whole­sale de­struc­tion of wood­lands and forests sur­round­ing the city.

You can still find Christ­mas bee­tles in the outer sub­urbs of Syd­ney and in most parts of the con­ti­nent, but if you are strug­gling to find them in your gar­den, look around for stands of young eu­ca­lypts, where they are most likely to be feed­ing.

To help iden­tify those you come across, and find out more about these beau­ti­ful bee­tles, down­load the Aus­tralian Mu­seum’s mo­bile app, Xmas Bee­tle ID Guide.

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