14 December 2021

Christmas beetles may get back to ACT, but wet weather could scuttle hopes

| Damien Larkins
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A Christmas beetle taken in NSW

Have you seen any Christmas beetles around? Photo: Shantoo.

There’s hope we could see more Christmas beetles in Canberra this year, but it all depends on the weather in the coming weeks.

Over recent years, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether Christmas beetle numbers are dwindling in the ACT.

But CSIRO director of the Australian National Insect Collection Dr David Yeates says no one is officially keeping track.

“We don’t collect data each year on how many Christmas beetles there are,” he said.

“Science is silent on that issue on whether there are more or less Christmas beetles.”

READ ALSO Canberra’s wettest year in a decade to get even wetter with storms ahead

Christmas beetles, Anoplognathus pallidicollis, are usually seen around the summer months feeding on eucalyptus leaves.

While their numbers naturally ebb and flow from year to year, there’s no scientific verification they are disappearing.

Dr Yeates is one of Australia’s leading experts in the field – so every summer, he’s called by the media and asked about the shiny scarabs.

“When I get on the radio and say there are no Christmas beetles, someone immediately rings up to say, ‘there’s some on my farm’,” he says.

“They’re around, but they’re just patchy, and they’re not around every year in the same place.”

Christmas Beetle larvae

Christmas beetle larvae live underground until they pupate into adults. Photo: Doug Beckers.

Recent wet weather across the territory has given some hope they might stage a comeback of sorts.

The beetle larvae live underground for about a year, eating roots and organic matter.

Once they pupate, the adult beetles burrow through soil softened by spring rains to eat, mate and begin the cycle of life again.

However if there’s been too much rain, it could spell disaster.

“You could imagine Christmas beetles even drowning there’s so much water in the soil,” Dr Yeates says.

“I’m not saying that’s happened, but it could be it’s been such a record month of rainfall there may have been too much ran around for them.”

But he remains optimistic.

“I’m hoping that it will be a good Christmas beetle year,” Dr Yeates says, “but it could have been just a bit too cool and wet to be really optimal for Christmas beetles.

“I think they would have preferred a little bit less rain and a little bit more warmth.”

The wet weather, however, is providing perfect conditions for other insects like butterflies and moths.

And for those irritatingly unwelcome summer house guests – mosquitoes.

“Right now, there’s lots of water, little pools of water in and around and mosquitoes breed in those situations,” Dr Yeates says.

“So we could see a lot of mosquitoes.”

Full mosquito sucking blood human

Mosquitoes or Christmas beetles – which would you prefer? Photo: John Tann.

There’s still a glimmer of hope that Christmas beetles may still be flitting about the porch light this summer, if things dry out a bit.

“We need a week or 10 days of quite warm weather,” Dr Yeates says.

“Now that we’ve had the rain, we need a bit of warmth to get things really going.”

You can join the Christmas Beetle count citizen science project.

Original Article published by Damien Larkins on Riotact.

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