Create a list of articles to read later. You will be able to access your list from any article in Discover.
You don't have any saved articles.
It isn't actually a bug and doesn't only fly in May, but the UK's largest chafer beetle is easy to spot.
Seen for the first time, an adult cockchafer, or May bug, can cause a bit of a stir and people can be worried by them.
But Stuart Hine, who has worked at the Museum’s Identification and Advisory Service (IAS), which is often asked by the public to identify them, confirms that cockchafers most certainly don't sting.
'They have a segment called the pygidium at the end of their abdomen, which is long and pointed,' says Hine. 'It looks vicious but is actually a tool for females to lay eggs into the ground.'
Adult cockchafers are one of the top enquiries to the IAS during May. 'We would usually expect to get 100 or more calls from people wanting to know what this peculiar creature is,' says Hine.
Cockchafers, Melolontha melolontha, are relatively large beetles belonging to the scarab family. Adults are 2.5-3cm long, and are common in the south of England and the Midlands. The name cockchafer means 'big beetle' in Old English.
Although one of their common names is the May bug, if climate conditions are right, adult cockchafer beetles are often seen flying in April.
Museum Coleoptera Curator Beulah Garner says they are brought out early by a warm spell.
She adds, 'They've certainly been seen in the UK as early as April.'
Cockchafers have whitish triangles on their sides, hairy bodies, reddish-brown wing cases that meet in the middle and orange fan-like antennae.
Adult cockchafers only live for about 5 or 6 weeks. During that time, they look for a mate and fly into the tree tops to feed on leaves. They fly at dusk on warm evenings, making a noisy hum, and are attracted to light.
‘They sometimes mistake chimney stacks for tree tops and occasionally fall down chimneys into open fireplaces,’ says Hine. 'Then after dark, they are attracted to light and can get caught in lamp shades.'
Although they are known as bugs, cockchafers are not true bugs, which belong to another group of insects that includes shield bugs, water bugs, aphids and scale insects.
True bugs that can fly have wings that usually overlap when folded, instead of meeting in a mid-line as cockchafer wings do.
Cockchafers spend most of their lives (three to four years) underground as larvae, or grubs. The grubs are white and C-shaped with six legs and reddish-brown heads.
They can be larger than the adults, growing to up to 4cm and are a food source for owls and bats.
Grubs eat the roots of a variety of plants and in large numbers can become pests damaging pastures and crops.
Another common species to look out for is the summer chafer, Amphimallon solstitialis. This is a smaller species that usually emerges at the beginning of June and is common around the date of the summer solstice, 21 June.
'It does pretty much the same thing,' says Hine. 'It flies around tree tops, nibbles leaves as adults and eats roots below ground as a larva. It is also prone to falling down chimneys.'
... or that it helped you learn something new. Now we're wondering if you can help us.
Every year, more people are reading our articles to learn about the challenges facing the natural world. Our future depends on nature, but we are not doing enough to protect our life support system.
British wildlife is under threat. The animals and plants that make our island unique are facing a fight to survive. Hedgehog habitats are disappearing, porpoises are choking on plastic and ancient woodlands are being paved over.
But if we don't look after nature, nature can't look after us. We must act on scientific evidence, we must act together, and we must act now.
Despite the mounting pressures, hope is not lost. Museum scientists are working hard to understand and fight against the threats facing British wildlife.
For many, the Museum is a place that inspires learning, gives purpose and provides hope. People tell us they 'still get shivers walking through the front door', and thank us for inspiring the next generation of scientists.
To reverse the damage we've done and protect the future, we need the knowledge that comes from scientific discovery. Understanding and protecting life on our planet is the greatest scientific challenge of our age. And you can help.
We are a charity and we rely on your support. No matter the size, every gift to the Museum is critical to our 300 scientists' work in understanding and protecting the natural world.
From as little as £2, you can help us to find new ways to protect nature. Thank you.