The Beetle Battle


I go on and on about this on Twitter, so I’m sure those who follow the airynd Twitter account are sick of it, but I tell you what, man – these critters are consuming roughly three to four hours of my day, so I think about them quite a bit.

While I take no pleasure in mass beetlecide, it needs to be done to protect our trees and plants. I know the established trees will weather the onslaught just fine, but the newly-transplanted and young ones… well, I worry about them. Take a look at my little cherry and plum trees, for example:

There are very few undamaged leaves left, and I worry they won’t be able to store enough energy to make a comeback next year. So I kill the beetles and feel a bit guilty.

We have five of the bag traps around the yard, and I’m not sure if I’m catching more, or if they are. My dad suggested using the dual-lure variety, and those do seem to attract more than the pheromone-only sort, but there is considerable controversy or whether the lures simply attract more beetles to the yard, some of which will be content to munch on the vegetation and ignore the trap. “Hey, there’s a swingers party over here, let’s go!”

The idea behind the traps is a scent lure. This sort uses a pheromone for the males, and a floral for the females:

The dark area at the bottom is a giant orgy of beetles. These beetles are hornier than any other living thing I’ve ever seen, and that includes some of my friends and co-workers. They mate while they eat, some mate while they fly. They mate in giant blobs of a dozen or more. I can’t say that I blame them; they spent the last year in the dark, underground, eating plant roots and whatnot. Then, through a glorious transformation, they suddenly have wings! They have wings and these gorgeous, iridescent bodies, and they must be exceedingly happy about the whole affair.

I imagine them flying around, high on life, finding each other and saying, “Wow, you look great! Let’s have sex while we eat!”

And then there is some crazy lady with a glass jar full of soapy water, stalking them all day and ruining their fun.

It’s how I roll.

Fortunately, their primary defense mechanism seems to be falling off whatever they’re eating and take flight before they hit the ground. This makes it a bit easier to catch them – just put the jar underneath them, and nudge them into it.

Some of this is my own fault; as I was digging in the garden and in the yard this spring, I came across these white grubs with orange heads:

Yes, it’s sort of hideous, but I didn’t know what they were. Plenty of beneficial and nifty species also have their larvae underground, and I had no idea if it was harmful or beneficial. Rather than kill potentially a member of a beneficial or sensitive species, I carefully remediated each and every one of them back into a little underground nook where I likely wouldn’t disturb them again.

I kept forgetting to look them up, and thus kept trying to put them back as I found them until a scant few weeks ago. “Son of a bitch!” I exclaimed aloud and considered going back and digging everything up again. It was, of course, too late. Next year, I’ll know better. Dammit.

Mike has taken an interest in vanquishing the beetles, too, and noticed they seem to prefer being up higher in the trees, whereas the traps were lower to the ground. He got the idea to hang the traps higher – off the roof, in fact.

That poor little cisterna plum is probably the most besieged plant in the yard, apart from the baby plum and cherry trees. I’ve found a few more in the garden, usually on the broccoli, but this morning there were two (mating, naturally) on a tomato plant. They’re on the green-headed coneflowers and the bee balm and the tall tickseed.

While their initial moments in the orgy bag are probably great fun, I can’t imagine it’s a pleasant death overall – slowly starving to death in the hot sun, being trod upon by frantic other beetles.

Thus, the beetles I collect by hand get a quicker death, either by drowing in the soapy water, or by being put down the running garbage disposal. Say a little prayer for their tiny beetle souls, my friends.

I think we can improve upon the trap design. Last summer, I used the Spectracide: Bag-A-Bug single-lure trap. It seemed to work fairly well, but it was late in the Japanese beetle season, so we didn’t really get a good trial run. The bag is opaque, so it’s hard to see what’s inside and there are no drainage holes to let rainwater out.

This year, we’re using the Bag-A Bug traps, as well as the Bonide Japaense Beetle Kit, which is the dual-lure variety. The bags are a transparent green, have drainage holes and seem to be more effective on the whole. The bags are flimsier, though, and prone to tearing along their seams when placing them on the plastic yellow vane.

Once beetles are inside either bag, it’s very unlikely they’re going to get out. They’re not especially adept fliers, and bumbling their way out of the bag is difficult. Both varieties of trap are prone to having the bottleneck close down and not allow bugs to fall fully into the bag. I think this could be easily fixed with a stabilizer. The top opening of the bag could stand to be larger, as well, to better collect beetles falling off the vanes.

Still, they’re out there catching at least some of the population, while I’m sitting in the air conditioning. There’s something to be said for that, surely.

Four or so more weeks and they should be all tuckered out and gone… only to begin again next June. Le sigh.

I am giving serious thought to hosting a contest – inviting friends, family and co-workers over for BBQ and a to see who can catch the most beetles in a two-hour time span by any non-chemical means they can think of. I have really smart people in my life – surely they could devise something. And I’d feed them and give them fabulous prizes.

I’m not so sure I’d have any takers, though – catching insects in the heat of the day? Not a great lot of fun.

Meanwhile, it’s their prime moving around time, so I’m back outside to catch more of the little bastards.

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3 responses to The Beetle Battle

  1. Sarah

    Next year, bring your chickens out to the garden with you when you’re tilling. They love grubs!

  2. Heather

    The other day I caught a pair of mating beetles and dunked them in the soapy water. They kept mating!! Then one of the beetles died and the second one started turning the first one around — it kept trying to mate! It was like it was looking for the right opening! It would have been funny if it weren’t so sick…

    Good luck!

  3. Erin D.

    Sarah, that’s a damned fine idea. Now that we have 8′ high deer fencing, they’re less likely to escape, too. They still haven’t figured out they can fly higher than 2 feet off the ground. 😀

    Heather, that’s just ewwww. I hate them so much.

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