Since I pride myself on being derivative, I have decided to continue what is now well established as a trend and talk about June beetles this month.
I am sure many of my readers are wondering if June beetles are somehow different from June bugs. I don’t think so? Common names are tricky. If they are the same critters, this is where I would probably go off on some thirty-page tirade on how they are in no way true bugs since bugs have piercing, sucking mouthparts and how they are actually beetles since they have lil’ chompers, and so forth. I’m a bit of a stickler though, so do as you will. As I type this I realize it is nearly comical that this column is called Bug of the Month, and I am complaining that all bugs are insects but not all insects are bugs. Now, I feel that I have to come clean about wanting to write this column mostly because my childhood nickname was Bug and I thought the pun was funny.
And in a graceful segue, June beetles are in the genus Phyllophaga and are truly kind of boring. At least for Texans who think June beetles are brown. If you live east of the Mississippi, you might think they are in the genus Cotinis, green and shiny, and only marginally more interesting than ours. I am sure I just offended many a coleopterist in the mix, but I bet they can take it. Let me explain to the lay people out there: I do not care about the feelings of so-called beetle-lovers because I studied ants in grad school. We hymenopterists are still a bit miffed over the whole “inordinate fondness for beetles” nature seems to have. Second-most speciose just does not have the same ring to it. So, when it comes to beetles, if you have evolved to fill nearly every available niche on the planet, some members of your ilk will be doing some very boring things. Like being a banal pest of turfgrass in their youth and then graduating to leaves and fruit as adults, in the case June beetles. Boring though they are, June beetles luckily make up part of my favorite beetle family, the scarabs!
Scarabs are not my favorite because they are pretty; though a few, I suppose, could be considered as such. It would be more honest, yet not entirely truthful, to say scarabs were my favorite due to their depictions in Ancient Egyptian art. The real reason is that I am truly petty and childish, so I take great delight in going on at length about none other than a type of beetle, nature’s golden child, of which many exclusively eat poop, lay eggs in poop, and live in poop.
Scarabs are most notably comprised of many species that would be referred to in polite company as dung beetles. There are several species in the area with this illustrative moniker. Some can be seen rolling a neatly-made ball of their prized possession down county roads. Others would rather bury their stinky booty, so they can chow down or brood their young in peace. More still will simply dive into a heaping pile of leavings and be happy as clams.
I would be remiss if I did not admit that dung beetles, while gross, are also very important members of almost all ecosystems. Much to my chagrin, but not to that of the beef industry, the scatological habits of these beetles provide American cattle ranchers with nearly $400 million worth of ecosystem services annually by burying and consuming livestock manure. Australia, which lacked native dung beetles, had imported 23 species of dung beetle to reap similar rewards. Not only did their dung problem disappear, but they also managed to reduce a noxious fly species’ numbers by ninety percent! That’s one helpful bug!
Dangit, I meant beetle.