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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Green Fig Beetle (Figeater Beetle/ Green Fruit Beetle) - Cotinis mutabilis

 
Green Fig Beetle (Cotinis mutabilis) flying over Yarrow in Mother Nature's Backyard

Have you noticed some large, bumbling green beetles in your yard recently?  They are most common from late July through September in the Los Angeles Basin - and so large you simply can’t miss them!  They’re raising quite a lot of interest now in Mother Nature’s Backyard.
 
The Fig Beetle is a true beetle, member of an extremely common group of insects (beetles account for about 1/5 of all animal species on earth).  Unlike other insects, the delicate inner wings of beetles are protected by a pair of tough outer wings,  the elytra.   When beetles fly, the elytra spread apart, allowing the membranous flight wings to unfold. 
 
The Fig Beetle is a scarab beetle (Family: Scarabaeidae), a group that plays an important role in recycling organic matter (more on that later).  More specifically, Green Fig Beetles are part of the subfamily Cetoniinae, commonly known as ‘fruit and flower chafers’ or ‘flower beetles’.  Unlike most scarabs, the ‘flower beetles’ are often brightly colored and active during the day.  Not surprisingly, adult ‘flower chafers’ are often seen feasting on flowers and fruit.

 
The Green Fig Beetle is native to Southwestern U.S. and Mexico.  The species was likely limited to moister areas of Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico in the past.   But Fig Beetles have increased their range, first becoming noticeable in coastal Southern California during the 1960’s.  They now range further up the California coast and into the Great Central Valley as well.  While cactus fruit and the sap of desert trees comprise their native diet, Fig Beetles now feed almost exclusively on garden and agricultural fruits.

Green Fig Beetles are large (up to 1.25 inches (3 cm) – in fact they are one of our largest native beetles.  They are often mistaken for Green June Beetles (Cotinis nitida) and Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica).    The Figeaters are noticeable larger than June and Japanese Beetles, which are mostly confined to Eastern United States.  And they don’t damage lawns and fruit crops to the same extent as their eastern relatives.  In fact, Figeaters are not considered an important pest species and are not controlled in California.
 
Green Fig Beetles are velvety green above and
 metallic green below

Figeater Beetles are dark, velvet green on top, with a cream-colored band around the edge of the elytra (see above photo).  Their legs and undersides are a brilliant iridescent green.   The head has a short, hornlike projection in the front and their legs have hooks for grabbing onto flowers and fruit (see photo below).   They are slow fliers and often collide with large objects including walls, houses and even humans. 
 
Figeater Beetle (Cotinis mutabilis) clings to stem of a Yarrow plant (Achillea millefolia)

Flying Figeaters make a loud buzzing sound.   The sound is likely produced by the Fig Beetle’s elytra, which are partially closed in flight and are only barely raised during takeoff.  You can actually see the partially-open elytra in flight – they are truly slow fliers.   The Figeater’s armor (the elytra) does provide protection, but it also makes for clumsy flight!
 
Green Fig Beetles don’t bite and are relatively unbothered by humans.  This makes them an excellent species for close observation (they are great for teaching children about beetles).   They are fairly easy to photograph; you can sometimes even get them to remain in your hand for a short while.  Treat them gently and with respect; they are living creatures with a role to play in the garden. 
 

Green Fig Beetle - Cotinis mutabilis


As in the wilds, adult Figeasters emerge in mid- to late summer, when their food sources are at their peak.  In the Sonoran Desert, their emergence coincides with the summer monsoons, when cactus fruits ripen and sap flows from the Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina) and Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides).   This is also when Fig Beetles gather in shady areas to complete their simple courtship.  The competition between Figeaters can sometimes be fierce; see http://arizonabeetlesbugsbirdsandmore.blogspot.com/2011/08/fighting-fig-beetles-cotinis-mutabilis.html

Adult Figeaters have a real sweet tooth – they are attracted to anything sweet, including some leaves, flowers, sweet sap and ripe/over-ripe fruit.    They cannot bite through the tough skins of many fruits; they usually eat fruits that have been damaged by birds/insects/squirrels – or are over-ripe.   Figeaters are attracted by the gases emitted by ripening and fermenting fruits, which serve as an airborne signal.  Among their favorite fruits are apricots, pears, peaches, apples, figs, melons, grapes, nectarines, tomatoes and of course, cactus fruits.   

In many gardens, adult Fig Beetles do little damage (compared to birds and pesky squirrels).  However, they can swarm on soft or damaged fruit and have been known to eat an entire garden grape or fig crop.  The best prevention is regular harvesting of ripe fruit.   Daily fruit harvest is often enough to limit predation to a tolerable level.  If your garden has many Fig Beetles, or if they are still eating your fruits, you may want to take some other, relatively simple steps.

The increase in Figeater Beetles is due in large part to the spread of home gardens.  Abundant adult food plays a role.   But many local gardens also provide choice larval food for Fig Beetles: compost, composting manure and organic mulch.   Adults lay their eggs in the decomposing material in the fall.  The beetle larvae then feed on the decomposing matter through winter and spring.  In fact, the larvae are important ecosystem ‘recyclers’, along with soil bacteria & fungi.  
 


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PC180002JuneBeetleLarvae_wb.jpg


 
If you live in Southern California you have likely encountered Green Fig Beetle larvae while turning your compost or reapplying mulch.   They look somewhat like large (up to 2 inches), fat, pale caterpillars (see above).  At rest, they curl up into a stiff C shape.  When disturbed – or to move – they roll over onto their backs and propel themselves using stiff, dark back ‘hairs’ and muscle contractions.  The common name ‘Crawly Backs’ reflects their mode of locomotion; the small legs are not used for movement.

Green Fig Beetles have a single generation per year in local gardens, although they may remain in the soil for two years if food and water are scarce.   Larvae typically emerge from the eggs in fall.   They live deep in the soil/compost during winter and early spring, eating and growing.  Hungry Crawly Backs occasionally consume plant roots, but their primary food is decayed plant matter.   Like most larvae, they eat a lot – they literally are ‘eating machines’.  They provide a vital service by hastening the decomposition of organic matter and aerating soils and compost.    Can you image a garden with no decomposition?  Ugly thought!

In spring, the larvae migrate upward to begin their second larval stage.  They can often be found feeding near the surface and you’ll sometimes see small mounds of soil near the entrance to their tunnels.  This period may have consequences for the home garden.   Larval tunnels can cause the soil to dry out around plant roots.  And the extraction of larvae by several common mammals can leave gardeners at their wits end.   In Mother Nature’s Backyard, raccoons, possums and skunks often dig up the large larvae and eat them.     Excavated holes in organic mulch or a lawn are a good indicator that Crawly Backs or other larvae are being eaten in your garden.  

In late April or May, Figeater larva create an underground pupal chamber with walls composed of sand particles and frass (solid excreta).   The larvae pupate (metamorphose from larval to adult form) in the pupal chamber, emerging as winged adults in summer.   And so the cycle continues. 

If Green Fig Beetles are a problem, consider trying to control them during the larval stage.   Turning over compost piles more frequently can help, as can letting your compost pile heat up.   Some gardeners screen their compost before using it; the larva can be returned to the compost pile if desired.    If you have a horses, know that manure piles can harbor Fig Beetle larvae as can thick layers of organic mulch.   For UC Pest Management Guidelines regarding this species see: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r261300511.html

We encourage your comments below.   If you have questions about Green Fig Beetles or other gardening topics you can e-mail us at :  mothernaturesbackyard10@gmail.com

 

36 comments:

  1. I live in San Diego and see Fig Beetles all the time. If you hold out your hand to a flying Fig Beetle, they will sometimes land in it. They are gentle and once they get settled they will stay a while. A French tourist was running away from one outside my apartment, and I held out my hand, and the beetle landed on my fingers. The Frenchman's kids were pleased and made many comments (in French). The Frenchman looked embarrassed and said in English, "It was buzzing. I thought it was a wasp." I've never had a Fig Beetle bite me and don't think they can. I carry them around a little while and then put them on the shrubbery. Neat!

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  2. They are eating my apples. Eat half the apple and the rest stays on the tree. I did not think that they were harmful until I saw them in action.

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    Replies
    1. They can't bite through the skin, so something else damaged the apple and then the beetle came for the juice

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    2. totally, they are completely harmless

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    3. I caught a few that were eating the figs in my yard. Used a plastic bag to capture them. As i was holding the bag, they bagan to chew through the bag and one of them bit me. I call BS to the part of the article that claims they dont bite. They do bite and they will if you capture them. Especially by hand.

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  3. About two months ago I rescued one who was struggling belly-up on my porch in West L.A. This Lil Fella was about 1.5 inches huge! He must've appreciated the help because he hung around on my hand and figures for 15 minutes-- I took fotos to prove it! It was truly a miraculous experience, the privilege was totally mine :-)

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  4. We have 3 fig trees and actually enjoy the fig beetles. They come at the end of the season and only eat the figs that were already damaged by birds so we don't care if they eat them. They crowd into an open fig and leave nothing but an empty skin. But they are the source of much laughter and entertainment with their bumbling flight--the Abbott and Costello of the insect world. And I think they're quite beautiful!

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  5. I found a ton of these beetles in my compost bin this morning, at first I thought my wife acidentlty trew away some plastic wrap and the breeze was making the plastic move and causing a greenish reflection from the sun, upon closer inspection it was these beetles trying to crawl through the vents on my compost container. Pretty cool

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  6. I'm glad to have read this. I have a fig tree and when I go out to harvest the fruit it feels as though I'm being attacked by the beetles for disturbing them. They seem to fly with such poor control, coupled with their buzzing, that they get me retreating quickly. I'm thinking of using a plastic face shield and some gloves when I try to pick them today. It's also nice to learn that they aren't damaging the fruit, just eating what is already damaged.

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  7. I'm Italian, living in Japan since 2008. A couple of years ago I decided to start my little terrace
    garden, where I now have little plants of Olives, Oranges, Basil and so on.
    Since I started this little garden many Japanese friends literally terrorized me about the possible
    deadly attack of the 'green fig beetles', especially for the fact, they told me, that they eat the roots
    of the plants, especially the Olives' ones, rapidly causing the death of the plants themselves.
    I'm not expert in gardening at all but, being Italian I was quite surprised, because I always knew that
    those insects, that in Italy we call 'Cetonia Dorata' (Golden Caetonia) are especially dangerous and
    easily found on the roses flowers. Never heard about damages to the roots of the plants.

    Now it happened yesterday that while I was irrigating the vase of two Oranges plants I clearly saw coming
    out from a hole in the ground a Green Fig Beetle, and an other one was very near; apparently they were
    both disturbed by the water.
    Now some Japanese friends of mine advised me to immediately start a chemical war, sort of, sure that I
    have some monsters of larvae lurking in the ground. I myself have never used on the plants anything more
    'heavy' than the natural 'Neem'.

    From your article it seems to me that my Japanese friends perhaps confuse between the Green Fig Beetle
    and the Japanese Beetle (Popilia Japonica, see at the link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_beetle), which has golden-yellow elitrae and not blueish-green.
    I also found two other species of Cetoninae that are dangerous for the roots of the plants, Tropinota
    Hirta and Tropinota Squalida, whose adults are similar in shape and size to the Green Beetle, but there's
    no way to confuse them as the Tropinota species are black, with white spots and with or without thick
    hair all around.

    On the other side the same Japanese friend, who spoke to me about the 'Root Eating Beetle', told me that
    the Japanese species is another one, the so called 'Koganemushi', scientific name 'Mimela Splendens'
    (Gyllenhal, 1817), and that their larvae do eat the roots (although I found the 'grass roots').

    Any advice from some people more expert than me? Can I sleep calm and nicely thinking I have no garden
    monsters developing in the soil of my plants?

    Thanks a lot

    Roberto from Yokohama

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    Replies
    1. The turf root eating beetle is the green June beetle, Cotinis nitida. They are in the eastern United States.

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  8. This is really weird, but I think Figeater beetles are attracted to me. I've been in California for about 2 years and they seriously follow me. It is creepy. I am not even kidding. I have 2 eye witnesses. When I walk into my apartment, one always shows up out the window. They will land on me randomly when I am outside. It is soooo creepy. Is there a color or scent I can avoid? I mean I love nature, but not when it is touching me.*

    *I am completely aware I sound crazy.

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    Replies
    1. Catie, ive had some interesting encounters with these guys too. After research, it helped to learn that they do not bite humans. If you are crazy, i am right there with you. =)

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    2. It happens to me all the tine!! The follow me... Wait for me... Meet me inside my car or anyone elses that im in... So yes please answer y they are attracted to me... Namaste

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    3. They are attracted to the smell of flowers and ripening fruit. If any hygiene products have these characteristics that may be why. Some people make traps using flower scents or ethylene (a plant ripening pheromone)

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    4. I had a shampoo that was flower based and figured out that it attracted them from very far away. They'd follow me and land on my head. I changed shampoos :)

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  9. Those green fig beetles are beautiful, they look like emeralds!

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  10. Interesting post, I've certainly never encountered these beetles myself but I'll certainly look out for them now!

    EIP

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  11. My Chickens love them and their grubs. I catch them with a butterfly type net we have so many flying around.

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  12. I just fount one of these beetles in my house. And this website helped me understand about these beetles.

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  13. I grew up in California. Up & down coast with Navy dad. We always called them June bugs. Mom & Dad from back east so..... Anyway got in HUGE fight years back with boyfriend who said I was wrong about name. He said they were Japanese beetles. Now feel vindicated! I also feel like these chase me. Read somewhere they were blind but that doesn't seem to be the case.

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    Replies
    1. June bugs are a little different than these http://organicgardensite.com/bugs-harmful/june-bugs/

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  14. Well. Know many people seem to enjoy observing these beetles, but as for me, they are a nuisance. You can't sit outside and enjoy cup of coffee without these beetles buzzing around you and smacking into you. Are they blind? Now I go outside with a handy tennis racket and smack them when they get near. They are pretty tough little beetles, they don't die when I smack them. They are especially numerous this year as soon as the monsoon started(Tucson,Az).

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    Replies
    1. No, don't kill them. They're really good for conditioning the soil and eating composting material.

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  15. We have an infestation of these...more than I have ever seen in my 50 years in Tucson. We thought they were japanese beetles and started an all-out war on them. Even using (gasp) bug spray! They make harvesting my figs and even sitting on the porch very unpleasant. As I sit here typing, they are banging into the screen and glass of all 3 windows in this room. I feel like I am under attack, but now that I know they are not japanese beetles I will try to look upon them with a different attitude.

    One thing that is contributing to their great population is we have a pair (actually 3) of Cooper's Hawks nesting in our tree, and the smaller birds have fled. I don't think the hawks bother eating the beetles. We also have tadpoles in our fountain, which has never been a problem before. Any advice there would be appreciated.

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    Replies
    1. Why are you worried about tadpoles??

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  16. Great blog - thank you. I've noticed this big flying green beetle in my yard in Temecula the last few days and was curious about it. Your blog also explained the heavy turning of our garden a few months ago - probably some little animals eating the grubs. We recently installed cameras and when the kale and broccoli were heavily munched on one nice we reviewed the tape. We saw 2 rabbits do the deed. Then we noticed 2 animals that looked something like a weasel enjoying the Anna apples (they didn't have the body shape of rats). I'm guessing they were our grub eaters. ... more web searching to do. Cheers!

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  17. I work at the Long Beach Airport in California. Every summer the beetles show up. They scare the hell out of the passengers as they Buzz them and passengers will scream and run. We stand by and laugh and tell them they dont bite or harm humans. We watch the beetles crash into the terminal, fall, hit the ground then get up and do it again. I usually hold my hand out and every day 3 or 4 will stop by for a rest. Passengers stop and look with interest but will not try and hold them.

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  18. I am completely terrified by ALL bugs of every type, big and small. One of these big guys just flew into my house and I just about had a heart attack! I think I just have a problem with the loud buzzing sound and the fact that they will fly straight into your face. My husband usually comes to my rescue, but he is at work. Before I read this page I did spray it with bug spray...A LOT of bug spray and it did not seem to bother it at all...my six year old finally sprayed it with hair spray and that finally did the trick. Are they resistant to bug spray? Now that I have been educated about how they aren't dangerous, maybe I will try a little harder to catch it and release it. Thank you for all the info!

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  19. As soon as they land, simply pick.them up..they hug your finger.. Walk them.outside and gently put them against the grass or leaves and they will turn around and hug those. If they top to.their back they, like tirtles and tortoises appreciate the help righting themselves.

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  20. These guys are so huge, we thought at first they were hummingbirds attracted to our feeder. When both are flying, it's a kick to watch. Thanks for explaining to my wife there's nothing to fear.

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  21. can they see? they run into everything i think they are adorable(:

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  22. I have lived in California all my life, but until we moved to a house large enough to have fruit trees in the backyard, I had never seen these before. A google search revealed they were Figeater beetles and "harmless", because they only feed on already damaged fruit.

    Well, not exactly harmless--they eat my mature Roses! A bloom will just be reaching fully open, and overnight will have been munched into a mere shadow of itself overnight by these damn things! If they left the Roses alone I would ignore them, even though the numbers they gather in make them really creepy. We have a pond--should I get toads? And will the Toads eat my Koi fish?

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  23. They follow me all the time. Some family members say it's my perfume or blond hair. It's scares the heck out of me.

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  24. There was a Green Fig beetle in my house and I took it outside but it wouldn't fly away. Then I saw that one of its wings was damaged. Is their a way to fix that or does it ever grow back?

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  25. I live in the Inland Empire of Southern California. These figeater beetles are often found in my yard. They are beautiful and have never possed a problem even though I have citrus trees. I did discover theycare effecient pollunators of agave. One of mine grew a flower stalk. Once the cremy white flowers opened the stake was covered w the metallic green scarabe beetles - figeaters. People here refer to them as June bugs even though they are not that species. The result of the pollunation was a stalk full of baby agave plants. I left it until the next year and when the stalk collapsed because of the weight of the baby agaves, I harvested them. The local nursery was very happy for my donation to them of over 1000 plants. Gave me my pick of a few plants as barter. Now have more about to grow stalks. Am looking forward to the scarabs covering those stalks when they bloom.

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