Organic pest control 101: how to get rid of fig beetles naturally
Garden of Eatin', Pests & Diseases

Organic Pest Control 101: How to Get Rid of Fig Beetles Naturally

I like to call them the “bumbling pilots of the garden,” and every summer, those loud, buzzy, clumsy fig beetles are quite an amusing sight to see.

If they’re not, ahem, getting down to business, they’re firmly planted on fruit trees, sucking the juice of not only their namesake figs, but other soft-skinned, rotting fruits like peaches, plums, apricots, and berries.

Fig beetles aren’t harmful to the garden the way other pests are; they won’t spread diseases, kill your trees, or attract more pests. But, they can be a nuisance if they’re feeding on your crop before you get around to harvesting it. Learn how to get rid of fig beetles organically and control their populations in the garden.

What Is a Fig Beetle?

Fig beetles (Cotinis mutabilis, also known as figeater beetles or green fruit beetles) are members of the scarab beetle family.

Fig beetle, also known as figeater beetle or green fruit beetle

They’re easily recognizable by their beautifully distinctive coloration. Fig beetles are metallic dark green on top with a tan-colored band edging their forewings (known as elytra), and have iridescent green legs and undersides. They’re relatively large as far as insects go, and can grow up to 1 1/2 inches long.

Fig beetles mating in summer

Fig beetles have one generation per year, though they can remain in the soil for up to two years. The larvae emerge from the eggs in fall and overwinter in mulch, compost, manure, or any decaying pile of organic materials.

The larvae, or “crawly backs,” look like curled up, creamy white grubs and don’t do any damage in the garden, as they solely feed on organic matter in the soil. They are actually excellent decomposers that help your compost break down more quickly!

In spring, the second larval stage begins and after metamorphosis, the grubs emerge as winged adults in summer. This is when fig beetles are most active, as they fly around searching for mates and feeding on fruits.

Their mouths are actually very weak, making them ineffective at chewing on most plant materials. They always seek out fruits that have already been damaged by other insects or birds, especially those with thin skins and extra soft flesh.

Fig beetle feeding on overripe fig

Fig beetles are most active in the middle of the day, and you’ll usually hear them coming before you can see them. They make bumblebee-like buzzing sounds as they fly.

These sounds come from their partially closed elytra, which make them notoriously slow and drunk-like as they navigate the air. It’s not uncommon to see fig beetles crashing into walls, trees, and even humans when they fly!

Though it’s somewhat of a shock the first time it happens, colliding with a fig beetle is no cause for alarm — they’re as gentle as can be and do not attack.

Fig beetles are found in the southwestern United States from California to Texas. They’re often confused with Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) and green June beetles (Cotinis nitida, also known as June bugs), which look similar but are slightly smaller, have a browner, more coppery appearance, and are found in the southern and eastern United States from Texas to New York.

How to Control Fig Beetles

Fig beetles can be annoying, but they’re unlikely to do any significant damage in the garden. If you want to get rid of fig beetles naturally, the key is to take preventive measures first, as chemical controls often don’t work on them, and agricultural resources (like University of California’s Integrated Pest Management program) don’t recommend using them.

(You also don’t want to be spraying your ripe fruits with anything right before you pick them.)

Figeater beetles are attracted to soft, overripe fruit with thin skins

1. Control during the larval stage.

To reduce fig beetle populations in the summer, control them when they’re most vulnerable in the larval stage.

Since the grubs live in and thrive on decaying matter, turn over any piles of mulch, compost, leaf litter, grass clippings, and animal manure frequently in spring. These materials (their favorite breeding grounds) provide food and shelter for the grubs; by being exposed, they’re likely to be swooped up by birds, skunks, and other predators.

2. Remove their food sources.

Fig beetles are attracted to soft, mushy, damaged fruit, so pick all your fruits as soon as they ripen, remove any that have been nibbled on by other pests, and don’t let lots of fruit rot on the ground. Leaving a juicy, dripping fig (or any other fruit) on a branch is just an invitation for clusters of fig beetles to descend on your tree and feed all day.

In peak season, try to make a habit of picking your fruit daily. This will keep fig beetles out of your garden and leave more fruits for you to enjoy.

Fig beetles clustered on a rotting fig

3. Use physical barriers on your fruit trees and shrubs.

If you can’t get around to harvesting your fruits as often as you should, consider covering your trees and shrubs with a physical barrier like a floating row cover, which will keep fig beetles, birds, and other pests off your fruits.

Remember that any barrier will also prevent pollinators from reaching the flowers, so place the covering just before the fruit starts to mature.

Harvest your fruits frequently to keep fig beetles off them

4. Hand-pick fig beetles as you find them.

To eliminate fig beetles the old-fashioned way, hand-pick each one and drop it into a bucket of soapy water. Dish soap works fine for this, and it doesn’t take much to kill them (a couple squirts is all you need). Once you’ve drowned all the fig beetles, dump them into your compost pile.

If there are multiple fig beetles swarming a single piece of fruit, place a mason jar underneath and snip the fruit off the branch. (Sometimes I’ll sacrifice a piece of fruit this way in order to trap fig beetles more effectively.) The fig beetles (and fruit) will fall into the jar, and you can quickly dump them out into a bucket of soapy water from there.

5. Feed them to your chickens.

If you raise backyard chickens, fig beetles are a dream treat come true for them! You can capture several fig beetles using the jar method mentioned above, then toss them out into the chicken run for your flock.

If your chickens like to forage around your fruit trees, you can also bat the fig beetles down to the ground with your hand and let your ladies chase after and enjoy them.

Chickens also make excellent compost turners, so let them peck and scratch through your mulch and compost heap for grubs.

Turn over mulch and compost to expose fig beetles and let chickens, birds, and other predators feed on them

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