GREG RAY: Beetlemania hits again 

LAST week it was ravens disturbing the peace and quiet of my street. This week it’s beetles.

Honestly, you do not want to be in my front yard right now, unless you like the idea of being covered in clumps of icky-looking green and yellow beetles. Not that they bite or sting or anything else. It’s just their sheer numbers that makes them unappealing to me. 

I am talking thousands and thousands of these things, hanging in great dark lumps from tree branches and garden plants and flying clumsily around trying to land on anything that moves. They are clumping, too, on the bottom of my garage roller door.

So every time the door goes up, dozens accept the invitation to enter the garage, where they swarm on screwdriver handles, clump on paintbrushes and generally make nuisances of themselves.

What are they up to?

Well, it looks to me like they are – to use an expression I’ve borrowed from the movie rating world – mainly concerned with sex. Group sex, in a very big way. 

Take a close look at those clumps, if you dare, and you will see what I mean. Seriously, these beetles have no shame.

Thanks to the Museum Victoria website I know these insects are called “plague soldier beetles” (Chauliognathus lugubris).

They are called soldier beetles because they look like they are wearing very martial two-tone uniforms, but their behaviour seems to me to be anything but disciplined.

I gather that lots of people find it unpleasant when their yards and gardens become the focal point for a gathering of these sex-mad bugs, frequently seeking online help from bug experts.

But according to the entomologists, there is no cause for alarm. Don’t break out the flyspray, because within a week or two the beetles, having done the urgent bidding of Mother Nature, will quickly move on to the next phase of their existence: laying eggs and dying.

The eggs will hatch, the larvae will go underground and feed on other invertebrates.

Sooner or later, a new generation of sex maniac soldier beetles will emerge to startle suburbia all over again.

Outside our house they are congregating in the towering, sprawling eucalypt my neighbour planted on the footpath many years ago. 

Which doesn’t surprise me, since that tree is always a magnet for something or other, especially when it blossoms. 

It produces massive bursts of flowers that attract not just insects, but also hordes of noisy white cockies.

They love to nip off bunches of leaves and flowers and drop them on our driveway.

Back when it was shrouded in dense ivy it hosted a great variety of nesting birds, was a favourite haunt for a pair of satin bower birds.

It also brought the koel, with its maddening repetitive call, on its yearly mission to lay its cuckoo eggs in some other punter’s nest.

Cicadas perform their deafening concerts from its branches, possums scramble around in it in preparation for their death-defying high-wire journeys to and from neighbourhood rooftops.

Just occasionally, monstrous goannas find their way into its spreading crown.

The tree also drops vast quantities of leaves and bark, not to mention dead branches. 

When the flowers are finished it deposits immense layers of tiny hard conical pods all over the place, playing merry hell with bare feet.

It’s one of those trees, in short, that some people would treat with copper nails or a midnight visit with drill and poison.

But I prefer to think of it as a neighbour of mine, in its own right, and I appreciate (sometimes grudgingly) that it keeps our street tenuously in touch with the inscrutable rhythms of the bush and its seasons.

SEX MAD: Plague soldier beetles are  doing what comes naturallly.

SEX MAD: Plague soldier beetles are doing what comes naturallly.


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