Do you remember those large black and yellow beetles that descended on your fruit trees and roses every summer? Of course you do. As children we had lots of fun with them. Tie a string of cotton to one sturdy leg and let it fly away while you hold on to the other end of the cotton. The beetle would busily buzz away but was only able to fly round and round in a circle like an angry helicopter. Or run with it while tethered to play dive-bombers when it temporarily ran out of fuel.
My father was not much of a gardener, but he loved his roses. He had an extensive rose garden where he lavished attention on his beauties. My responsibility was to keep the roses watered and dead-headed. While this was a chore, it was one I enjoyed as I also loved the roses. So when the rose beetles attacked they were not welcome. But instead of sending them to a grisly death I simply made them fly elsewhere (except for the ones that were converted into aerial combat toys).
I now feel quite good about not killing them, although I did not know at the time that they were not pests, but beneficial members of the ecosystem – as are all creatures in one way or another.
Pachnoda sinuata – Image: Wikipedia
The garden fruit chafer or brown-and-yellow fruit chafer (Pachnoda sinuata), is a species of beetle found all over Southern Africa. They are also known as “rose beetles” or “rose chafers”. ‘Chafer’ is a term for beetle derived from the Old English “caefor”, meaning “devourer”. But unlike their cockchafer relatives, which voraciously consume grass and vegetable roots, rose chafer larvae are harmless detritivores, feeding on decaying leaves and other organic matter. In fact, like earthworms, they are important nutrient recyclers and their burrowing helps aerate the soil.
The larvae are most often found where there is lots of organic matter, for example in compost heaps or well-manured flower beds. If you can’t be bothered with making your own compost, just bury your kitchen waste in the garden and the fruit chafers will come. They will lay their eggs and the larvae will do it for you.
Rose beetle larva – Facebook
The larvae are large, fat and white with an orange-brown head. They curl into a characteristic C-shape. To confirm the identification of a rose chafer larva, lay it down on a solid surface. It will uncurl, roll on to its back, stretch out to full length, and begin flexing its body, using the tiny tufts of rufous, bristle-like hairs along its back to propel itself forward (rather than using its three pairs of stubby legs).
They are not cutworms, will not destroy your seedlings and will assist in maintaining soil health so should be left to do just that. If their numbers should get out of hand, don’t worry. The red-winged starlings and Hadeda ibises will soon take care of that.
As the name implies, adult beetles feed on flowers and over-ripe fruit, often destroying them in the process, which makes them unpopular with gardeners. But remember that, as effective pollinators, they contribute to the health and diversity of flowering plants, thus supporting local ecosystems and agricultural productivity.
Always be prepared to share your garden with nature’s creatures. You never know how they may benefit the environment. Even snails have their uses. They are the favourite food of firefly larvae – and of course farmyard fowl.