Christmas Beetle – Species Profile & Facts
The Christmas beetle or the metallic beetle, to go by one of its popular aliases, is an exotic insect that few people know about. They’re not exactly popular as pets but can populate your garden if given proper conditions. They are rather friendly and are not easily scared of human presence.
But what do we know about these beetles, and what makes them special? Let’s start with the beginning!
What is a Christmas Beetle?
The beetle’s name comes from its reproductive pattern. Adult beetles prepare to lay their eggs in the winter, close to Christmas, which eventually stuck by their name. They are also called metallic beetles due to their metallic shine and coloring options.
The beetle’s appearance may appear familiar and for good reasons. This species is related to scarabs like the dung beetle and the Rhinoceros beetle and comes in various colors like gold, brown, pink, and green with subtle variations depending on the subspecies and individual. All beetles will display a shiny, metallic look, especially on the back
The Christmas beetle also displays hairy legs with hooks on the end, giving it an ominous and disturbing appearance. These appendices recommend the beetle as an adept climber, which is fitting given its native habitat, consisting of wooded areas.
The beetle uses its powerful claws to climb trees and plants in search of food and to evade predators. Males and females are rather similar in appearance, with several notable differences. These include thicker and more powerful legs, with less hair on them and an impressive and thick head horn. The male uses its horn to impress females, intimidate opponents, fight, and dig through the foliage in search for food.
How Big do Christmas Beetles Get?
At most, Christmas beetles can reach around 1.5-1.6 inches. This is fairly large for a beetle but minuscule compared to a rhinoceros beetle, which can reach 6 inches in length.
Where do Christmas Beetles Live?
Christmas beetles are endemic to Australia and prefer living in woodland areas. Such habitats provide them with plenty of food opportunities and hide zones, allowing them to avoid predators and thrive. They also require more humid environments, which is why you won’t find the beetles in arid and desertic areas.
The beetle’s limited spread and its environmental specialization puts it in a precarious position. The destruction of its habitat can endanger the species, seeing as the beetle hasn’t adapted to other living conditions and hasn’t found its way outside Australia yet.
If you want to keep one as a pet, you might want to relocate to Australia to do so.
What do Christmas Beetles Eat?
The beetle’s diet varies depending on its development stage. The beetles’ larvae develop underground, where they feed on grassroots. The larvae’s appetite is rather impressive, and they remain underground for up to 14 months, depending on the subspecies and environmental conditions.
They can also dig underground tunnels to find better food and eat various grassroots pretty much the entire day. This ranks them as pests due to their extensive damage on pastures and gardens.
The adults prefer eucalyptus leaves and share the larvae’s astounding appetite. This behavior combines with the beetles’ reproductive cycle, resulting in large numbers of males undergoing pupation at the same time. This leads to literal swarms of hungry beetles capable of defoliating a tree in a matter of hours.
How Long do Christmas Beetles Eat?
The Christmas beetle’s total lifespan, from larva to adult, can reach 18 months. The beetle’s total lifespan depends on several factors, including species, the length of its life cycle, and environmental conditions.
The Christmas beetle will spend most of its life as a larva, pupate, then turn into an adult that will only live for up to 6 weeks. The adult’s main goal is to reproduce and lay its eggs in mid-winter to ensure the continuity of its species.
Do Christmas Beetles Bite?
They rarely do. The beetles save their biting capabilities for dealing with their food. When it comes to facing a threat, the beetle tries to flee the scene or, at most, adopt an intimidating posture, hoping to discourage the attacker. Male beetles will also use their head horns as weapons, poking the attacker with obviously minimal effect.
They might also bite if you insist on triggering this response, but it isn’t really painful. Christmas beetles don’t have powerful or dangerous mandibles, and they have tiny mouths designed to bite and chew soft leaves.
Are Christmas Beetles Poisonous or Harmful?
Neither. At most, Christmas beetles are harmful to the environment, especially when spawning in large numbers, capable of decimating the eucalyptus populations. Fortunately, the adult beetle’s lifespan is around 6 weeks, limiting its harmful influence on its natural habitat.
Also, the highest concentration of Christmas beetles can be found along Australia’s Eastern coast, from Bamaga in the North to the Wilson’s Promontory National Park in the far South. Tasmania is also stock full of these swarming creatures.
Other than that, the beetle is spread across Australia sporadically, which means its environmental impact is rather low. The insect isn’t, however, dangerous to humans directly since it isn’t poisonous venomous, and it doesn’t sting or bite.
The Christmas beetle is pretty much harmless, so no reason to be scared of it in the wild.
How do Christmas Beetles Reproduce?
The Christmas beetle’s reproductive cycle falls in line with that of other species of beetles, with only small variations. Here’s how the beetle’s development phase unfolds:
- Egg – The female will lay the eggs underground, typically near a eucalyptus tree or in plant-rich areas. This way, the larvae will have plenty of food available once born. The female can lay around 20 to 40 eggs, most of which will hatch successfully in optimal living conditions.
- Larva – The larvae will hatch and immediately begin feeding on grassroots and decaying plant matter. They have a virtually insatiable appetite, capable of consuming a lot of food during their developmental years. Yes, years, because the Christmas beetle will spend most of its time in a larva stage. Depending on the species of beetles and environmental conditions, the larvae’s lifespan varies. Those living in higher temperatures may pupate 1 year after hatching, while those in colder areas could take twice as much. The Christmas beetle larvae are similar in appearance to other larvae of beetles and scarabs.
- Pupa – When the pupation phase closes in, the larva will build an underground chamber where it will spend 3 to 6 weeks as a pupa.
- Adult – The pupa will turn into an adult, which will not emerge from their hiding right away. Depending on the species, adults may spend several days or more in their burrow and emerge at different times – one of nature’s ways of minimizing competition. Adult beetles typically require rain to moisten the soil, allowing them to dig their way out easily.
Once emerging from its hiding, the adult beetle only has 2 primary goals – eat and reproduce. It will immediately begin seeking for food and fly around the area to find members of the opposite gender to pass on its genes. The female will lay its fertilized eggs undergoing and the entire reproductive cycle resets.
Are Christmas Beetles Rare or Endangered?
They are rare, but they aren’t endangered yet. However, the gradual destruction of their natural habitat can lead there if measures are not taken. For now, these beetles continue to live in their safe havens, keeping their distance and avoiding human contact as much as possible.
The latter is easy to do since the beetle’s adult phase only lasts for 4 to 6 weeks. Other than that, the beetle keeps a low profile, lurking underground as a larva, remaining under the humans’ radar.
Do Christmas Beetles Fly?
Yes, they do. They are actually adept flyers, males especially since they need to make extra efforts to find compatible females for mating. Males will establish an approximative territory after spawning and can traverse several miles in one go. They also fly mostly in the evening or near the dusk and, like all beetles, are attracted to light.
With a bit of luck, you can even catch some as they fly towards your porch lights. If that doesn’t work, hunt for eucalyptus trees from late November to late December, and you’re bound to encounter often hundreds of beetles feeding on the same tree.
Do Christmas Beetles Make Noise?
Yes, especially in larger swarms. During flight, the beetle swarm will produce a rather large and distinct humming noise. This is the natural noise produced by the insect’s wings in mid-air, marking the beginning of its feeding phase.
Some swarms can count hundreds of beetles, capable of devouring a lot of food fast. Their humming can sometimes reach impressive proportions.
What are Christmas Beetles Attracted To?
Christmas beetles are mostly attracted to light, food, and mating partners. Everything else is secondary.
Do Christmas Beetles Make Holes in the Lawn?
Yes, they can, and they will make holes in your lawn, provided the female beetle lays its eggs nearby. Adult beetles feed exclusively on eucalyptus leaves, but the larvae have a more varied diet. They will feed on plant roots, including grass and dead matter.
They will definitely enjoy wrecking your lawn, since it will provide them with a lot of food over a more concentrated area. The bad news is that, once the larvae have tasted your lawn, they are unlikely to leave so long as there’s still something left to eat. The larvae will dig underground tunnels as they change position and will even poke holes to the surface, destroying your lawn in the process.
This is why Christmas beetles rank as pests throughout most of Australia.
The Christmas beetle is a fabulous-looking pest that you don’t really want around your home. Fortunately, the adult beetle won’t damage your garden, so long as you haven’t planted eucalyptus trees nearby. If you did, expect to have company around Christmas, and I’m not talking about Santa Claus and his reindeer.