Beetles are the most numerous type of insect and insects are the most numerous type of animal on the planet. Beetles have hardened front wings (called elytra) that meet in a straight line down the middle. These hardened forewings protect the delicate hind wings which can be folded (with some fussing) to fit underneath the protection of the front wings. The arrangement of the wings of beetles is one of the keys to their success. Adult beetles are able to move through dense foliage without damaging their ability to fly. This allows beetles to exploit habitats that are unavailable to insects with delicate exposed wings.
A number of the scarab beetles live underground as larvae and spend the winter underground. Among these are the masked chafers of the genus Cyclocephala. The adults of the southern masked chafer are present in May through June. The northern masked chafer adults are present from June through late summer. Both species are attracted to lights and can be quite numerous in some years. In 2008, we had a large masked chafer population in Tippecanoe County. A trip to the 4th of July fireworks was accompanied by hundreds of masked chafers buzzing around the lights and the rocket’s red glare.
In the fall, the C-shaped grub larvae are living in the soil and feeding on the roots of grass. They can be a pest of lawns and turf. Soon the chafers will be burrowing deep underground to spend the winter below the frost line. The larvae will diapause in low activity metabolic state, toasty warm in the soil, while the temperature plunges below zero on the surface. In spring, the larvae will break diapause and resume feeding on the roots.
In late spring they will emerge and entertain us with their clumsy flight. Sitting inside the house with the lights on attracts beetles to the windows. I hear the low buzz and clunk, another beetle crashes into my screen.