In recent years I've heard my kids complaining about 'July bugs'....."they fly into your hair and get stuck there and you have to have your whole head shaved!!" Although I'd spout the usual "oh don't be so silly" secretly I'd be thinking " What are these nightmarish things.....and am I the only person who's never seen one??"
I can't ever remember hearing of July Bugs as a child.......it was the Daddy Long Legs, dive-bombing around the room, that set us off screaming and running for our lives in all directions. July bugs? Unheard of...
So I'm wondering are they a myth? or perhaps a new species inhabiting our shores? or are they just less common in the north of the country, where I grew up? So I went on a 'virtual' bug hunt:
The 'July bug' - also known as the May bug, Spang Beetle or Billy Witch - isn't really a true bug, but a relatively large beetle called a Cockchafer (yes really). They're found more commonly in the south of the UK than the north, which explains why I've only become aware of their existence since moving southwards.
They normally appear during the warmer evenings, from May to July, and often fly through open windows or down chimneys - attracted by the light. They're completely harmless to humans (a fact I've now imparted to my offspring, especially my daughter) - but are viewed as a pest where plants and crops are concerned because their larvae feed underground on roots. Cockchafers were almost completely wiped out by pesticides during the mid-20th century but are now making a come-back with the recent regulation of pesticide use.
The Cockchafer begins life as an egg laid around June - July, which hatches into a white grub living underground. The grubs can spend 3 years underground (up to 5 years in colder climates) until they pupate. They feed on roots and tubers until they reach around 4cm. At this point they pupate, emerging as an adult beetle (or imago) in the Spring. They live as imagos for only six weeks, during which time a female can lay as many as 80 eggs.
Before agricultural intensification the larvae were considered to be a great agricultural nuisance where crops were concerned...... so much so that adults were caught and killed to break the life cycle and, in 1911, more than 20 million individuals were collected in 18 km² of forest.
The French took a novel approach to the problem in 1320 when the Cockchafer as a species, was taken to Court in Avignon, whereupon they were ordered to leave town and relocate to a specially designated area - or be outlawed (rolls eyes). Any Cockchafers who didn't comply were collected up and executed....it's unclear how many of them ended up on French dinner plates :)
One thing that is clear though - the Cockchafer has been around for many many centuries. It's said that in Ancient Greece, young lads used to catch them and use them as entertainment by tethering their feet with thread and watching them fly hopelessly round and round in circles.....a fact that I didn't impart to my sons.
So now I know what a July Bug is, the best advice I can offer is to keep your windows shut and wear a hat!
Here's one posing for the camera....