Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Mega crop of June bugs has landed, north and east of Dallas
From East Plano to Rockwall, they're hanging out on people's porches and driving dogs crazy.
They started showing up about a week ago: clinging to the screen outside the kitchen window. Playing hopscotch on your walkway. Making kamikaze flights whenever you open your back door.
The size of your index fingernail, their hard brown shells and black spiny legs are an instant giveaway: June bugs, aka June beetles, and lots of them -- especially northeast of Dallas, in a corridor that starts at US 75, curves through Wylie, and ends in Rockwall. Unofficially, this has become June Bug Territory in spring 2009.
Except for one small correction, notes Robert Crocker, a retired entomologist for Texas A&M who specializes in scarabs.
"First of all, you haven't really seen any June bugs, you just thought you were seeing June bugs," he says, playfully. "You’ve been seeing May beetles. Texas is blessed with a fairly rich fauna of what we call June bugs -- the genus Phyllophaga and related genera."
This isn't to say that they can't be found in the center of town, as well. Gabriela Pataro, owner of Cafe Lago, has seen a few in her East Dallas yard; her new puppy is enchanted with them. But in general, the beetles prefer vacant lots with edible vegetation -- i.e., your lovely suburban backyard -- and the anecdotal reports show this first graduating class of '09 to be mostly outside the Loop.
Tommy Shurn, who works at the Oak Point Center Fitness Center on Jupiter Boulevard in Plano, sees them congregating in the entrance, perhaps plotting a run for the aerobics room.
"I also see them where I live, on the Murphy-Wylie border," he says.
"You mean those brown beetles?" asks Lauren A., of Rockwall. "They're everywhere and driving my dogs nuts. You can't sweep them, they cling to brooms. It's crazy."
Wylie resident Jana Johns says they've been taunting her dogs.
"I have two shnauzers that love to eat them, but when they eat them, they get sick to their stomach and throw up," she says. "So I have to be careful about letting them out and turning on the light. The light instantly attracts the bugs, so when I let the dogs out, I let them out in the dark."
Aimee Thibodeaux, manager at Blue Canyon restaurant in Rockwall, finds them on her cement patio.
"We sit outside and they'll be out there walking on their heads," she says. "My little girl likes to pick them up, but they scare the dogs a little bit. They jump back and won't go near them."
Hell, call them April beetles, says Dr. Tom Royer, an entomologist with Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
"They’re called June beetles, but we could have named them April beetles, May beetles, July beetles, all the way through to September because they come out at different times," he says. "This is the first wave."
Their arrival is triggered by rain, says Dr. Mike Merchant, Associate Professor & Extension Urban Entomologist for Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Richardson.
"The ones we're seeing were triggered by the rain we've had in the last week," he says. "I started noticing them bumping against my windows early last week."
Awinash Bhatkar, an entomologist for the Texas Department of Agriculture in Austin, says that the population spiked because the winter wasn't very cold.
"Each generation is larger than the last one," he says. "With winters being somewhat mild for the past few years, we have a larger and larger population."
And while they may all look alike to the layman, there are differences. There are more than 100 beetle species in Texas. Some mate in public, some do it privately. Some burrow into the ground solo, others make a party of it. Some eat your lawn, some don't. The true June bugs that come in June are big lawn eaters -- a scourge for suburban yard-tenders for whom Dr. Royer has an unexpected solution.
"Armadillos love those things," he says. "They like to dig up the grubs when they get nice and juicy. Grubs are the immature stage of the beetles that eat plants. They're C-shaped, about an inch long. I had a year when I had a lot of June bugs and an armadillo came and worked over my full front yard."