Christmas beetles may miss Santa

The Christmas beetle is mostly missing this Christmas. No plans have been made to rename it the new year beetle.
The Christmas beetle is mostly missing this Christmas. No plans have been made to rename it the new year beetle.

THE only thing stranger than having Christmas in Australia without Santa would be having it without Christmas beetles.

For years the clumsy critters zinged around Christmas parties, bumped into people and created a familiar atmosphere with their distinct whirring and clicking.

But the December holidays have arrived and few have been sighted on the Northern Rivers.

Mark Hickey, industry leader for tropical horticulture at Wollongbar Primary Industries Institute, said the region's weird weather was largely to blame.

"(The beetles are) developing a bit slower due to cooler temperatures," Mr Hickey said.

This year the Northern Rivers has experienced high summer rainfalls - something Christmas beetles would usually enjoy because it softened the soil they lived in and allowed them to scurry out.

Yet too much rain could drown them and create deadly fungal diseases in the soil.

Other factors also hindered the beetles' growth.

"They've got to go through a couple of winters to develop, so numbers this year could well be determined two years ago," Mr Hickey said.

Besides annoying people at a party, Christmas beetles aren't seen as a pest.

They do have a big Christmas appetite though and a swarm can strip a eucalypt of its leaves in a short time.

"There's plenty of foliage on the Northern Rivers for them to feed on, that's why numbers would usually be a bit higher up here," Mr Hickey said.

The beetles are usually 2-3cm long and pale brown, dark brown and green.

They are most likely to be spotted around outdoor lights.

"They're attracted to light, so that's why people tend to notice them when they open the front door at night and the beetles wander inside," he said.

Mr Hickey said the recent change in climate had affected the routines of many insects.

"Pests are running about three weeks behind this year, so that could mean they'll be out in the new year rather than at Christmas."


Beetle facts

  •  There are 32 species of Christmas beetles in Australia.
  •  Christmas beetles are usually 2-3cm long.
  •  Christmas beetles emerge at dusk.
  •  Adult Christmas beetles make zigzag cuts in leaves as they eat.

Topics:  climate change december weather

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