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  • Annmarie Throckmorton, M.A.

Japanese Beetle Watching Me

This sturdy little animal has beautiful, metallic green and bronze iridescent elytra. If you gently wrap your hand around it you can feel how powerful the bug is, pushing against your fingers, seeking a way out. In the top right corner of the image you can see where Popillia japonica has taken nibbles out of my pretty rose. It will devour everything but the thorns and stems of the rose bush, filling its fuzzy belly. This one is clutching a petal in its front and hind tarsi, watching me before diving to safety in leaf litter below. They like to nap close together during the heat of the day, tucked into the soft rose petals. Beatles have the same basic senses as we do: smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight. I imagine their mates nestled all together in the fragrant rose petals smell very nice to them. They proliferate horribly. I am losing all of my rose bushes to this greedy little bug, about sixty plants, the tea roses first, then the rambling standard rose. I already lost a young elm tree and my dwarf apple tree to them. I learned not to put in any concord grapes.

Who named Popillia japonica the pejorative of “Japanese beetle”? This common beetle is about ½” square and every summer a horde of them eats my rose bushes down to twigs and thorns. To say that it has iridescent copper-colored wing covers and a shiny, metallic-green head and body, does not describe the shimmering glory of beauty that is this bug. It is an absolutely beautiful animal, and only to save my roses have I added milky spore to the soil to kill their grubs, sprayed the adults with insecticide and antifeedant, trapped them, crushed them, and drown them in bowls of soapy water. All to no avail, when my home-grown stock of these beetles is depleted, they fly in from other yards where others have failed to control them. I once saw a five-story tree completely covered by a massive swarm of Japanese beetles here in southern Illinois. Horror masters Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King would have loved it. Starlings (Sternus vulgaris) are a primary bird predator of Japanese beetles, but starlings are not protected by state or federal law meaning it is lawful to shoot them, and I have seen only one or two in my backyard in ten years. Control of Japanese beetles would be a fine example of what government should do for the people, as it is impossible for individuals to do it for themselves.

So much of relating to nature is about controlling and irradiating parts of it. I will not miss that when I move from my yellow brick house to senior housing next year.

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