Spend any time outside in my part of Dallas these days and you will experience the thrill of Cotinus beetles. If you know what an A-10 warthog is, think about the sight, sound, and indestructibly they represent. Designed to provide close air support, they are built to withstand a ferocious amount of ground fire, and to be flyable with only one tail, one engine, no hydraulics, and a wing shot up. They also make a distinctive whining buzz when they approach, due to the supersonic speeds of the fan blades inside the jet engines. A-10’s are slow, with a top speed of 460 mph, but they survive. [Links to many sources of information are at the bottom of this essay.]
Green June beetles seem like that. You hear them before or just as you see them, a huge, heavy-winged beetle bearing down on you and droning as they come. I’ve never been hit by one [edit, one just flew through my hair while writing this], but they seem to hit everything else. As I sit here writing I can hear them karrooming off the walls of our motorhome, off the walls of the house, off just about everything around me that is not moving. But they bounce. They barely slow down as they fly at full speed into walls. You hear them hit, and then they drone off in another direction. They are survivors.
So what are these beetles? If you have the Milne and Milne Audubon Society Field Guide to North America Insects and Spiders, look at plate 208, and page 557-58. This is a very nice picture of a Cotinus nitida, which may or may not be the locally occurring species. Beetles being what they are, there are dozens of species to choose from. I would rather like to think these are Cotinus texana but that would take an expert on this family to be sure.
Cotinus beetles are in the Order Coleoptera, Suborder Polyphaga, Family Scarabaeidae, Scarab beetles, with about 1,375 North American species (about the same as all the bird and mammals species in North America combined! See below.). Subfamily Cetoniinae, Flower beetles, Genus Cotinus.
While the name Green June beetle would make you think they were similar to what we call around here “June bugs,” they in fact are in a different subfamily of Scarabaeidae, the Melolonthinae, which has 24 genera and nearly 500 species. “June bugs,” also known as May bugs and May beetles, are in the Genus Phyllophaga, which itself has 131 species. Also, as anyone out at night near a porch light knows, June bugs are out at night, while Green June beetles are out in the daytime.
Both groups of beetles are considered “pests,” meaning they do damage to things that humans want to protect. In the case of both of these beetles, it is larval populations that do damage to lawns and field crops.
More Bugs than you can count!
It was J. B. S. Haldane, the British evolutionary biologist who remarked “God must have a passion for stars and an inordinate fondness for beetles.” Stephen Jay Gould does his usual thorough and thoughtful job of both tracing the wording and history of this likely quotation in “A Special Fondness for Beetles” first published in the January 1993 issue of Natural History. It is also reprinted in Dinosaur in a Haystack, pp. 377-87. After ascertaining that Haldane really did make a remark close to these words, Gould also talks about the sheer numbers of beetles, and offers Terry Erwin’s estimate, based on his work with tropical rain forest species, of possibly more than eight million(!) species of beetles worldwide. And beetles represent 25% of all named species in the world.
Links to Other Fun Sites and Information:
The usual great Wikipedia article on the A-10 is here:
For their sound, and maneuverability, this YouTube video is great:
(Sound at about :20, 2:25, and 3:12)
For a typically wonderful and informative Wikipedia article on Cotinus nitida (you DO use Wikipedia don’t you – and support it, too?):
The University of Maryland Extension has a nice short article on Green June beetles as well:
There is also a nice, two page article on Cotinus texana on the Natural Worlds site, which has a whole collection of pages on the Scarabaeidae:
A site of much importance for understanding the diversity and interconnectedness of life is the Encyclopedia of Life, an incredibly ambitious attempt to collect the information known about every living thing into one database. Here is its entry on the green June beetle:
For June bugs, etc.:
The Peterson Field Guide to Beetles of North America has a Green June beetle in plate 8, and some description on page pp 147-48, and the Peterson Field Guide to Insects has a mention on page 194.
Number of species of Scarabaeidae is from the Peterson Field Guide to Beetles of North America p. 138 – 1,375
Number of species of mammals – 474
Number of species of birds – 976