IS IT A CHRISTMAS BEETLE: What has happened to all the Christmas beetles? Photo from Wet Tropics Area Management.
IS IT A CHRISTMAS BEETLE: What has happened to all the Christmas beetles? Photo from Wet Tropics Area Management.

Is it Christmas without beetles?

IT'S the time of year when we used to be able to sit outside in the garden in the evening and delight in watching the antics of those clunky iridescent beetles as they swarm around the lights and cling to flyscreens.

But it seems that Christmas beetles, the charming indicators of midsummer may be in decline due to the twin ravages of drought and development.

And while they may look merely pretty, they underpin many of our ecosystems as food for bigger animals, clean up waste, act as pollinators and predators, which can help keep pest populations under control.

Australia's own Christmas beetle expert, entomologist Dr Chris Reid, from the Australian Museum, is on the record that when concrete replaces bushland, the habitat of these insects - and other animals - will impact on their numbers.

Which might explain why places like Sydney have lost many of these brightly coloured beetles, but what about in country towns like Lismore, Ballina, Kyogle and Casino?

And are all those little shiny insects really the Christmas beetles of yore?

Dr Reid said the Australian Museum has now added a new app for iPhones and Androids which allows people to identify if they have seen a Christmas beetle or merely an introduced 'Argentine lawn beetle' (Cyclocephala signaticollis).

"We have made thumbnail sketch maps of the areas for each species," he said.

"You should have around 15 species in the northeast from coast to dividing range.

"Overall, I think it's the drought, particularly (the) long dry winter / spring killing larvae, or the hard soil preventing adults from emerging, so not much you can do."

Dr Reid said we could be facing a quiet summer overall with a lack of all kinds of insects.

"It will be interesting to see if cicadas are similarly affected this year, they are also living in soil as larvae so might have similar problems," he said.

"I've seen very few so far, this year could be a silent year."

Dr Reid said he was unsure if pesticides could be a factor in the beetle decline.

"I don't think any pesticides exactly help the situation but I also don't think they can be blamed for decline of Christmas beetles as these won't be breeding much in gardens," he said.

"They are mostly woodland and forest".

Dr Reid said anecdotal evidence suggests Australia's endemic Christmas beetle population is on the decline.

And he's keen to hear from anyone who has encountered a large numbers of these fascinating insects.

Have you seen any Christmas beetles at your place?

Send us a photo and tell us the details at news@northernstar.com.au


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