Anyone who has picked blackberries is familiar with June bugs, because they’ll startle you when you reach in and pick one of them instead of a berry. As a youngster I was taught that June bugs are those large, green backed beetles an inch long that are common during the heat of summer. They can often be seen flying low over your lawn in a zigzag pattern. You will also find them feeding on their preferred foods which includes grapes, berries, apples and ripening corn.
My reference books call this bug the Green June Beetle (Cotinis nitida). What the books call June Bugs (Phyllophaga rugosa), also called May Beetles, which are those small half inch beetles that are tan brown in color and seen buzzing around lights at night. The adults feed mainly on tree foliage.
Both the green June beetle and the June bug are members of a class of beetles called scarabs. Most have stout bodies that have a bright, metallic look to them. One particularly interesting scarab is the dung beetle, which collects animal feces, forms it into a ball, and then rolls it to a nest to feed their young. There is nothing cooler than seeing a beetle push a ball of poop around. The ancient Egyptians considered the dung beetle sacred and its likeness is found on very old tomb walls and pottery.
The green June beetle and June bug go through a similar life cycle. The female lays 50 to 100 eggs underground in a special cell made from glued dirt. The eggs hatch in 10 days into white grubs, which feed on the roots of grass and vegetables. If the grub population is high enough, they can kill lawn and pasture grass. They remain in the soil for several years, then go through a pupal stage that is also spend underground, and then finally mature into adults, which emerge in late spring.
At summer picnics when I was growing up we would catch a green June Bug and tie a string to its leg and walk around with it like a flying dog on a leash. Another trick was to tie one on each end of a piece of string about 3 feet long. If you were lucky the two beetles when released would go spinning through the air playing tug of war with each other and end up wrapped around an aunt or girl cousin. Hey, we didn’t have smart phones back in those days, so we had to do something.
Steve Roark is the Area Forester in Tazewell, Tenn. for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.