Beetles in the Scarabaeidae family, dung beetles, chafers

Melolontha melolontha, cockchafer flying

Scarabaeidae Family

On the left is Melolontha melolontha, the common cockchafer or May bug. It is a member of the Scarabaeidae family. There are over 20 000 species in the world in this family, 300 in Europe, and 89 in the British Isles. They range in size from 0.2 - 17 cm.

The Scarabaeidae contain two main groups, the dung beetles and the plant-eating chafers.

Adults. Chafer adults usually have the final segment of their abdomen just visible from above. Both groups have the characteristic lamellate club antennae formed by the last 3 - 7 segments of the antennae this can be clearly seen in the photographs of dung beetles below. Usually the adults have short, strong legs useful for digging.

Larvae. Scarabid grubs (see the drawing below right) usually develop in the soil and feed on roots (chafers), or are found in dung or decaying organic matter. And they are always the characteristic "C" shape.

Melolontha melolontha

The cockchafer female has a shorter antennae club than the male. The male's antennae end in 7 flaps that can be opened up and closed like a fan. Each flap is studded with

Melolontha melolontha, cockchafer adult
Melolontha melolontha, cockchafer chrysalis

sensory pits receptive to the chemical signal released by the female. When opened like a fan the male has a better chance at detecting the chemical molecules. When the flaps are closed it means he is not seeking a mate. The female has only 6 flaps. The elytra (wing cases) are reddish brown. Cockchafers range in size from 20 - 35 mm.

Although very large and heavy they do fly, and the drawing above show the position of the front wing cases during flight, and at rest. When they fly they make a buzzing noise which can be alarming, but they are harmless.

Their flight speed has been recorded as 3.0 metres per second with a wing beat of 46 per second. Compare this with other insects.

The adults eat flowers and foliage.

The female deposits her eggs about 15 cm below the soil surface. The larva, see right, eat plant roots, with grass roots being preferred. They feed near the surface during warm months, and become inactive during winter. The drawing on the right is of a three-year-old larva. They can grow up to 60 mm long. They have a shiny brown head and legs, with a dirty white body. The larvae are sometimes called rookworms as rooks are supposedly fond of eating them. They live on this diet for three - four years before digging a burrow and pupating in an oval cell about 60 cm deep in the soil, see above right.

Pupation takes a month, but the adult will remain in the pupation cell until spring. The adult beetles emerge from the soil around May, which is why they are also known as May bugs. They are found in Europe and temperate areas in Asia.

Melolontha melolontha larva, cockchafer grub
Cetonia aurata, rose beetle, Scarabaeidae

Cetonia aurata, rose beetle, or rose chafer

On the left Cetonia aurata it is a brilliant golden green above and coppery underneath, though the colours can vary. The elytra have irregular transverse white streaks. The larva feeds on plant roots, humus and rotten wood especially beneath elm stumps, and can be considered a pest. The larvae grow up to 50 mm long, the have a brown head and legs, and a dirty white body.

The adults fly from April until September and are commonly found in flowers where they feed on pollen. Their maxillae are modified to form pads tufts and brushes to collect the pollen. The adults are unusual in that they can fly with their elytra (wing cases) closed, unlike other beetles which have to fly with their elytra open. They range in size from 14 - 20 mm.

Xylotrupes gideon, rhinoceros beetle, elephant beetle

On the right is a preserved specimen of an adult male elephant beetle. They are found in South-East Asia and Northern Australia, but now can be found in captivity worldwide as they make popular pets.

The adult length is very variable 35 - 70 mm. All are black and very shiny. Only the male has the two-pronged horn on his head. He uses it to knock other males out of the way when he smells a female.

When disturbed adults can make a sound that has been described as a hiss or a squeak. This is made by rubbing the abdomen against the elytra (wing cases). After mating the female lays around 50 white eggs in decaying vegetation. Adults are nocturnal.

Xylotrupes gideon, rhinoceros beetle, adult male

Pachnoda marginata grub, sun beetle

Pachnoda marginata, sun beetle

On the left is the larva of of the sun beetle, and on the right is the adult. These are sold as pets and are quite easy to rear if kept at room temperature. The grubs are also reared to be fed to reptiles.

Pachnoda marginata, sun beetle, adult

Anisoplia sp

Right is an Ansiopa sp., these are found in central Europe. Note the lamellate antennae.

The adults live mainly on cereal and grass flowers, and the larvae on grass roots. They tend to be found on warm, dry slopes with sandy soil.

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Anisoplia sp., chafer, adult
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