As the monsoon season brings rejoicing rain to the region, insects start to emerge in booming quantities with one goal: find a mate. One of the most easily recognized insects in our desert is the Green Fig Beetle, Cotinis mutabilis, which can be spotted from a distance as it clumsily buzzes around and bumps into trees, buildings, and often people. Many kids growing up in the southwest (California to Texas), have enjoyed keeping Fig Beetles as pets and even ‘flying them’ by tying a string around it as a little leash in order to keep it close.
This large insect is part of the Scarab family, which means the larvae are white grubs that curl into a ‘c’ shape when disturbed – you can often find these grubs in your garden or compost. Luckily, the Green Fig Beetle larvae are not eating your plant’s living roots, but are there eating the decaying material like fallen leaves. The grubs eat and grow 2-3 months before making a small cell from dirt that it will use to pupate; these cells are a tad smaller than a ping-pong ball and will protect the metamorphosing creature from drying out, becoming deformed, and predation.
Males usually emerge from underground pupal cells first; beginning their oafish flights in search of food and females. Once a good source of food is found, these beetles will congregate to it and it isn’t unusual to see dozens on one tree. The adults will eat a variety of fruits on trees and shrubs, while figs seem to be one of their favorites (hence the namesake). You can attract some of these harmless beetles to your yard by leaving a piece of fruit out overnight… cantaloupe seems to be another favorite.
These beetles are most notable for having iridescent green bodies with brown or yellow highlights, and closely related species can be brown or even jet black. We aren’t sure why these beetles have this coloration, but they are quite beautiful and are sometimes used in jewelry-making. Some folks may call these beetles “June bugs,” but that is a misnomer. ‘June bug’ is commonly used to describe a wide variety of insects across the globe and can be misleading, because a june bug in Ohio is a very different critter than a june bug in Wyoming. While it is always best to use scientific names, they are hard to remember, so for this insect, the common names that are most accurate are Green Fig beetle or Figeater beetle.