The May Bug

Going by many names, The Common Cockchafer or May Bug is an amazing creature. It is perhaps the most conspicuous, not to mention the largest species of the 90 Scarab Beetles that can be found throughout Britain.

Adult May Bugs can be found resting in and around various shrubs, trees and hedgerows, most commonly in gardens, woodlands and sometimes fields.In Old English the term “Cockchafer” translates as “Big Beetle”.

A close up photo of a May Bug

However, as the larvae spend between 3 to 5 years developing under the ground, they can reach up to 4cm in length, becoming larger even than the adult form. As a result, this fantastic beetle is a very valuable part of many habitats, acting as prey for many species of birds, and occasionally bats.

Both the adults and larvae are vegetarians, feeding on leaves and flowers, or in the case of the larvae the roots of grasses and some crop plants, in particular vegetables. It is seen and heard on the wing throughout most of Britain, from May to July.

The noisy flight earned this species another nickname – ‘the Doodlebug’ – the name once given to the German V-1 flying bomb, used in World War Two.

The idea that they are pests has been prevalent throughout history, including one memorable occasion in 1320, when all ‘Billy Witches’ were taken to court! Before pesticides were commonly used, May Bugs were a lot more common, and could do significant damage to agricultural crops, due to their high numbers.

A photo of a May Bug

In Avignon, France, pest control decided to take action, ordering them to leave, before exiling all ‘Snartlegogs’. All Maybugs who did not follow these orders were collected and sentenced to death! Later, as a result of pesticides, populations of this beetle dropped dramatically, and only began to increase in the 1980s. Although some populations are now re-established, the numbers are still much lower than they used to be.

Despite this, the both male and female ‘Bracken Clocks’, are frequently attracted to light, often banging into the windows of lighted rooms!

In the adult form, the males and females can be distinguished by their antennae. Male members of the species have seven leaves which make up their antennae, whereas the females only have six.These remarkable antennae enable the beetles to detect and locate pheromones (insect hormones), which allows mating to occur even at night!

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