You may have noticed that every year around this time these little brown bugs suddenly appear on mass here in the Algarve - and you may have also noticed that they are the most hopelessly clumsy bugs you can imagine.
These gawky little dudes seem to only be able to manage to walk a few steps before they flip over and flail about helplessly. And, if you do come to their rescue and turn them over, they will only tip over onto their backs again 15 seconds later.
They have wings and so can fly too, but this is just as haphazard. They aren’t like penguins that are all clumsy on land but become majestic and graceful as soon as they hit the water. Nope. They fly like 1 metre into the air at most - and then come crashing down to land horrifically. It seems like you can’t leave them alone for a moment or they will get themselves in some kind of mortal peril. On their own they would have surely gone extinct, but I think their strength is clearly in numbers - there’s loads of them.
I decided this year I would try and find out who they are. I managed to discover through a combination of taking a picture of them and Googling it (did you know you can Google a picture? It’s true, Google it) and asking those helpful ‘garden scrollers’ on the Gardening in Portugal Facebook page if they knew? Lots of them knew who I meant and described them as “those helpless cute little bugs that are a bit dumb” - that’s them alright. And of course, there were lots of rescue reports of people saving them from puddles, pools, spider webs and the endless host of other dangers they manage to find themselves in on a minute to minute basis. Some people said they thought they were ‘June bugs’ like they have in England, except here they would be more like ‘December bugs’.
But in the end all the evidence pointed to them being the ‘European Chafer Beetle’, and although Wikipedia, as somebody pointed out, “doesn’t say anything about them being hopelessly incompetent”, trust me they are. But that’s okay because it turns out that they don’t have to be a beetle for very long. Most of their year long life is spent underground as ‘C’ shaped larvae. They lie low feasting on grass roots and only become beetles for about 2 weeks - just long enough to make babies. Each female lays 30 to 40 eggs in the ground and the next generation’s life cycle begins. Once this is done the adults die, which frankly, is no surprise at all given how they behave. What’s surprising is that they manage to seduce anybody while clumsily lying around on their backs or buzzing dramatically into walls. But hey, just shows there’s somebody out there for everyone.
Everything has a purpose though and when they are larvae they make great food for peckish birds and other animals looking to ‘rustle up some grubs’, and even as beetles I can imagine them being just the thing that Timon and Pumba from The Lion King would find delicious. They would definitely suit their lazy laissez faire lifestyle. Crunchy, satisfying and certainly easy to catch. Hakuna-matata.