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 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.
I think these two are trying to step up to me…
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.)
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!