Fig Beetles: Bumbling Pilots of the Garden

Fig beetles

Around this time of year, the garden is abuzz… not only with bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, but with the iridescent green, giant, flying beetles known as fig beetles (Cotinis mutabilis).

The first time I ever bumped into a fig beetle, literally, I actually heard it before I saw it coming. It sounded like a jumbo jet coming in for landing, and as I turned my head to look in its direction, one smacked me square in the head. It crashed at my feet, momentarily stunned but wiggling frantically on its back before finding its footing again and taking flight — swerving through the air like it’d had one too many tequilas.

Fig beetles are amusingly clumsy, and it’s a wonder they’re able to navigate at all. I’ve seen them crash into walls, poles, trees and people, but when they do make their target, they’re nestled deep in my fig tree, sucking the juice out of an over-ripened, dripping fig.

They don’t just go for figs though; they feed on pollen, nectar, and flower petals, but their favorites are fruits. They can’t bite into hard, immature fruits but love soft, squishy, super ripe fruits, especially those that have already been nibbled by birds.

Fig beetles feasting on a fig

Fig beetles feasting on a fig

Fig beetles are also called figeater beetles or green fruit beetles, and are found throughout summer in the southwest (when the adults emerge from the larval stage). They look strikingly similar to and are sometimes confused with June bugs (Cotinis nitida, seen in the south) and Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica, native to Japan but brought to the east coast in the early 1900s).

I used to dread their appearance every summer but now I count the days when the fig beetles invade my garden… I actually leave a few of the rotting, dripping figs on my tree as a trap. Inevitably a handful of fig beetles will land on the fig and stay there all day, feasting. When I find them, I knock them down one by one into a jar — they’re often too full or too dazed to fly away.

But once they land inside the jar, they start buzzing furiously, climbing on top of each other and flipping over themselves.

Trapped fig beetles

Captured fig beetles

I think these two are trying to step up to me…

Fig beetles

Green fruit beetles

Figeater beetles

I collect as many as I can find, then make my way to the chicken coop where three very eager chickens run up to me, curious about the jar in my hand. I’ll even shake it around a bit to tease them. (Sounds savage, I know, but I’ve heard of people tying strings to fig beetles and flying them around like a kite, so this doesn’t seem quite as sadistic.)

Chickens awaiting a fig beetle feast

As soon as I take off the lid and drop the beetles to the ground, they’re gone faster than I can blink — into the beaks of my very satisfied chickens. I swear I’ve even heard them purr in satisfaction!

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September 3 2013      44 comments     Linda Ly

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  • Jenny

    I’m in California too and I saw my first fig beetle last summer. I had never seen one before and it scared me so bad. And just like you describe, it bumped into something and stumbled around for awhile like it was drunk! Glad I finally know what this is!

    • Even though they’re harmless, they still startle me every time because of their sheer size and loud buzz! LOL

  • Tim Boland

    Do these beetles appear on the east coast? I just planted a fig on Martha’s Vineyard called ‘Chicago Hardy’ Had great fruit production the first year..Yum! Gonna check out that ginger recipe if I can get enough to harvest.

    • The east coast has a similar beetle called the Japanese beetle.

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  • Wisefriend

    Awesome photography. Who knew fig beetles were so gorgeous?

  • How funny — I wasn’t expecting that bloodthirsty ending! When I lived in California I sometimes had giant hornworms on the tomato plants. I would pick them off and throw them to the chickens, who would throw them around and try to steal them from each other. We called it “hornworm football.”

    • LOL! My chickens do the same thing… One will find a tasty grub, only to have the other one pull it from its beak and run the other direction with it!

      • bonniewasmax

        Gotta love the little ladies.

    • bonniewasmax

      Hahahaha !

  • bonniewasmax

    I was erroneously calling them Japanese beetles. Hahahaha ! ” A rose by any other name “……tastes just as good to my chickens.
    Besides sustainability with backyard chickens, people are really missing out on how fun our chickens can be. From that first race in the morning to the compost pile to grab the goodies and fig beetles that are an easy catch, to their jumping to grab one out of the air and then, a rousing game of keep away. It reminds me of a basketball game.

    • I used to call these Japanese beetles as well. I find a lot of them right before sunset, so the chickens now expect a little treat before bedtime! So spoiled.

  • KyleeB

    These look identical to our Cotinus nitida, which can be found here in Ohio.

  • Julie

    Love your photos!

    BTW Americaunas do purr!

  • Cary Bradley

    Yes, these guys are definitely familiar from our Whittier garden. I grew up in Montebello in a fig orchard and did not see them there, then. In the last 20 years, they definitely were in Whittier. An old pal of mine from work, a botanist, did tie strings to them when he was a kid in the 60s and fly them around, just like you say. Linda, don’t know if you’ve seen their larvae, but they are large, and were terrific at cultivating my compost heap. Loved them then, love them now. Cute guys! Glad your chickens enjoyed them! 🙂

    • The larvae freak me out! I’ve found them in my mulch, squirming around. I HAPPILY relocate them to the chicken coop!