Of May Beetles
and June Bugs

by Shaun Kane

Photo courtesy of Wildlife in North Carolina

      The beginning of summer is usually marked by the arrival of of two noisy and clumsy beetles.  Both are called June Bugs but it is easier to give them different names.  The June Bug that's familiar to most is the big green kind that can be seen crashing into the side of the house during it's uncontrolled flights on hot summer days.  The other June Bug is really the May Beetle.  This is the smaller brown beetle that is usually crashing into the lights at night during its uncontrolled flights on hot summer nights.  They may look different and are active at opposite times but they have similar life cycles and one of them is actually so good to eat that it can "heal what ails ya" and if laughter is the best medicine then the other is useful too.

The Green June Bug

     The Green June Bug is the bigger of the two at about an inch long.  They can be found bigger occasionally.  They come out of the ground during the day to eat ripening fruit and some vegetables, most likely corn.  They aren't very good flyers so they can be heard running into buildings and they often give homeowners a start when they are struck by these thickly built flyers.  At night they return to the ground and burrow into shallow cells until daylight returns.
     The June Bug reproduces in summer by laying eggs in cells that they dig just below the surface of the soil.  The larva are white grubs that are found frequently while digging in the yard.  The grubs spend the winter underground and then in spring feed on the roots of your turf grass until they grow to pupa stage.  In June and July is when they emerge as adult beetles.


The Brown May Beetle

     The Brown May Beetle is commonly only about 3/4 of an inch long but in reading it was found that specimens have reached up to two inches.  Around Knotts Island they are pretty much small and round.  They are active at night, feeding on foliage, flower buds, and flowers on shrubs.  They are usually seen flying erratically around the porch lights and floodlights of homes, or clinging to the screens of doors trying to get to the living room lights.  They have reproduce much like the Green June Bug except that the life-cycle of their larva is about three years and they emerge as adult beetles earlier, around May.
     Both beetles are white grubs while in their larval stages.  They're the same "C" shaped white grubs that are always in the soil when digging in the yard.  The grubs may be anywhere from 1/4" to 2" long depending on how far along they are in their development.  They crawl on their backs using two rows of stiff hairs.  They eat small roots near the surface of the soil so they quite often damage turf grasses leaving curly brown marks in lawns. Sometimes they eat root vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots causing damage in gardens.  But they also eat decaying leaves though so they aren't always destructive.  The grubs are good to have around in yards owned by fishermen.  They are easy to find and are great bait for a wide variety of fish species.  And of all the insects you can eat, the white grub is one of the tastiest, easy to prepare and high in protein.
     If eating insects interests you, the May Beetle is a best choice.  When toasted in hot ashes, the internal body parts and juices of the bug congeal into an edible nugget.  After peeling off shriveled legs, wings, and wing case, the remaining tidbit can be eaten one at a time or by the handful.  Toasted May Beetles have a surprisingly sweet taste.  The flavor is said to resemble thick raw molasses or crudely made cane syrup.  If mixed with warm milk, it has a malted milk taste.  It turns out that the beetles can be used as medicine too.  Full of edible fats and proteins, the bug is a rich source of food and appetite stimulating medicine when prepared correctly.  Crushed into fine powder, bug-flour added to hot water forms a rich nourishing drink perfectly suited to victims suffering from anemia, dehydration, and other maladies.
     The June Bug isn't as tasty but it can be a lot of fun.  Being a harmless insect, they are fairly easy to catch and hold.  The legs are thick and spiny for digging and can feel a little uncomfortable if they grip your finger but they won't do any harm.  You can tir a piece of light twine to one of the June Bug's legs and release it.  It'll fly around to the limit of the string and act like a living miniature kite.  If you've been brought around from a illness by the May Beetle, the June Bug can restore your sense of humor for a complete recovery.
     May.  June.  Whenever they've emerged, whatever name you give them, both beetles are a summertime standard that are known to all.

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