Tag Archives: cockchafer

Fledglings and Maybugs

It was a tough spring for the birds because temperatures were almost relentlessly below normal, causing plants to bloom, blossom and leaf late, and insects to be in short supply. I was surprised to see the Blackbird above with such a large fledgling chick. I had put some cream out for them, cream which had just gone off, but they loved it.

Two Cockchafer beetles - the males have rooster-like red combs on their antennae.
Two Cockchafer beetles – the males have rooster-like red combs on their antennae.

Last Thursday was our first really warm sunny summer-like day and later that night I found Maybugs, better known as Cockchafer Beetles, coming to the lights of the house in huge numbers. In fact, I’ve never seen so many at one time. They will be flying around Wicklow skies until late in June, and possibly even into July.  They are heavy beetles and when one very big one accidentally blundered into the web of a female Giant House Spider the poor spider was quite at a loss what to do, as the beetle was a bit bigger than its usuall prey. The Cockchafer fell out of the web soon after, ably assisted by gravity:

When spider dreams come true they're generally too big to handle.
When spider dreams come true they’re generally too big to handle.

National Biodiversity Week

Usually National Biodiversity Week in Ireland begins on a Saturday and ends the following weekend. However, this year it is a two-week event which began the week before last and will be ending next Monday, June 1, the June Bank Holiday. However, it was only late last week that the cold Arctic winds abated and a tropical current took over, and what a weekend we had. The birds are nesting now and are interesting to watch – such as these Jackdaws nesting in one of our chimneys:

Jackdaws at their chimney nest - it's almost impossible to differentiate the male from the female but she is usually slightly smaller, making her the one with the bread in its beak.
Jackdaws at their chimney nest – it’s almost impossible to differentiate the male from the female but she is usually slightly smaller, making her the one with the bread in its beak.They take turns at nesting duty.

Also, the insects are now making their presence felt – keep an eye out for this creature:

This is a male Poplar Hawkmoth, which is the largest moth most people see in Wicklow, and not all that often either. But they are always around.
This is a male Poplar Hawkmoth, which is the largest moth most people see in Wicklow, and not all that often either. But they are always around. They have a funny way of holding their wings when at rest, but this makes them look very like dried leaves.

This is the largest moth species most people encounter in Wicklow and is far bigger than people expect Irish moths to be –

In daylight hours this moth can be handled easily and is not usually stressed in the least bit.
In daylight hours this moth can be handled easily and is not usually stressed in the least bit.

However, although it’s large there are several much larger species found in Ireland, and the largest that does visit Ireland, albeit only occasionally, the Death’s Head Hawkmoth, is about twice the size of this species and far more robust.

Moths are not the only large insects flying about our short late May nights – you can still find Maybugs, aka Cockchafer beetles blundering about and crashing clumsily into windows, cars and the occasional forehead. They are not our biggest beetle species, but they are probably our most common big beetle species, but they fly for only a short time in late spring and early summer, spending most of their lives as white grubs feeding on the roots of plantains and dandelions.

Many people find the large Cockchafer quite frightening, but it is completely harmless and spends its relatively short adult life searching for a mate.
Many people find the large Cockchafer quite frightening, but it is completely harmless and spends its relatively short adult life searching for a mate.However, it does have hooks on its feet which means it can cling onto clothing and even skin and be a little difficult to remove.

National Biodiversity Week and some nice surprises

I know people might be wondering, “where the hell has he gone without a word about Biodiversity Week?”. Yes, it is late in the day, but unfortunately for me Biodiversity Week coincided with a heavy week of non-biodiversity related chores, and only today am I free to write and enjoy it all. Remember, the week is only designed to get you interested in biodiversity, so if you are already reading this, then it’s a case of “mission accomplished”. Also, a number of people have been in touch and I have yet to respond, so please don’t be offended if you have not heard back yet, your messages are not being ignored, and I am delighted to receive them. First things first, I received a lovely message from Ruth Finnerty to say she had found a Cockchafer beetle in her living room and had been able to identify it using this website, which is terrific news for me, because that’s what the website is for. Thank you, Ruth! Cockchafers are on the wing now in the warmish evenings, and this year they really live up to their alternative name of “Maybug”.

A male Cockchafer beetle, which can be told apart form the female by its cock's comb-like antennae. They are quite big beetles, and slow-moving and clumsy when walking, or fliying for that matter. Because they usually show up in May, they are traditionally know as "Maybugs".
A male Cockchafer beetle, which can be told apart form the female by its cock’s comb-like antennae. They are quite big beetles, and slow-moving and clumsy when walking, or fliying for that matter. Because they usually show up in May, they are traditionally know as “Maybugs”.

According to the famous 19th century French naturalist, Jean-Henri Fabre, people would use the grubs to cure toothaches. If anybody tries this remedy, please let me know the results.

Evening time is the best to see Cockchafers as they blunder into lights and windows. However, there are other remarkable creatures out there. Look on the flowers for some real wonders. In the photo below you can get some idea of how tricky it can be, and how observant you need to be. Can you see the two spiders in the photo below. If you can only see one, then you need to know that the other is much bigger.

The male and female Misumena vatia,  or Flower Crab Spider. The female is much larger than her mate, and brilliantly camouflaged, capable of changing colour to some degree, to blend in with backgrounds. The male is actually camouflaged to look like bird dung.
The male and female Misumena vatia, or Flower Crab Spider. The female is much larger than her mate, and brilliantly camouflaged, capable of changing colour to some degree, to blend in with backgrounds. The male is actually camouflaged to look like bird dung.

On this occasion I was fortunate enough to see them mate, which involved the male climbing down behind the female’s bulbous abdomen and putting his sperm directly into her reproductive orifice with his palps, the little claw-like, antennae like structures beside his head. He has to be careful because she will eat him if she can. But there are much smaller creatures that are just as interesting, and I urge you to look at your flowers very carefully to see some very important little insects, pollinating beetles to be exact.

A tiny weevil, essential for the pollination of many plant species. These funny little insects are known as Pea Weevils, and they will run away and hide once they feel they have been spotted.
A tiny weevil, essential for the pollination of many plant species. These funny little insects are known as Pea Weevils, and they will run away and hide once they feel they have been spotted. This is a potentilla flower, from the same shrub that the spiders above were photographed in.