By Karen Miller, Master Gardener Entomology Specialist
Christmas is almost here, and what better way for an entomology specialist to start off the season than to give you the scoop on “the Christmas beetle.” Yes folks, there is really a beetle called the Christmas beetle. Christmas beetle is a name commonly given to the Australian beetle genus anoplognathus. They are known as Christmas beetles because they are abundant in both urban and rural areas very close to Christmas. They are large members of the scarab family and can be from 3/4 inches to 1 1/8 inches in length.
The Christmas beetle is found in the forest and woodlands of southern and eastern Australia. These beetles are members of the scarabaeidae family with about 35 species found throughout Australia. Christmas beetles come in various colors including pale to dark brown, green and iridescent green. Like all anoplognathus species, the length of the forelegs is uneven and covered with barbs which enable them to cling to the thin eucalyptus leaves. The beetles are nocturnal and are attracted to lights at night. The Christmas beetle seems to be most active around sunset and immediately thereafter, being drawn to outdoor lighting.
The larvae, called grubs, are white and c-shaped. They live underground, feeding on plant roots and decaying vegetation. They prefer roots of native grasses, but will also eat roots of lawns and crops. In late winter to early spring the larvae begin moving to the surface of the soil where they will pupate. The adults will emerge in about two weeks, if conditions are right. These beetles rely on the spring rains to soften the ground so they can burrow out. In an extended dry spring, the Christmas beetle can be caught underground, not able to emerge, and will die.
The Christmas beetle is a voracious eater and will attack a wide range of eucalyptus and other tree species. As they feed, the adult beetle makes zigzag cuts to the leaves, thus leaving most of the leaf material wasted and on the ground. Trees can be defoliated very quickly, especially by beetles feeding in swarms.
The Christmas beetle, most definitely, sounds like a pest to be reckoned with, but I found very little information regarding it as a pest. Most of the articles I read said nothing about any effort to control this beetle. The total number of Christmas beetles has declined in the past years, mostly due to the grassy woodland areas being used for housing developments. My conclusion is that if the weather conditions are favorable so that a large number of these insects emerge, then, so be it.
For more information, call the Ector County Extension Office at 498-4071 or the Midland Office at 686-4700.