Did you know that beetles and butterflies have birthdays? Last week it was the tanner beetle’s birthday. Here he is, marching out by the back door dead on time, August 13. That’s his birthday. We know because we make a careful note every year when he hatches out.
We have noted the dates of many other insects here in these woods, for the past fifty years. Alright, birthdays for beetles are movable feasts and given a warm dry year they may pop out a fortnight early, or a fortnight late in a cold wet year.
The tanner beetle is easy to see because it is the biggest British longhorn beetle of them all, the females being 37mm long. We have 60 species of longhorns here but in the tropics there are thousands. We notice them so easily because they are colourful, extraordinary-looking, active and unafraid.
They march about showing off their colourful tunics and often land on your chair or your shoulder having flown in from the dead wood chambers where they have spent a year as a grub.
Woodpeckers find them tasty morsels before they hatch so they are useful additions to the ecosystem. The tanner in my photo is a male with rapier antlers with which it will turn an opponent upside down where it will probably die or be eaten by a badger. Another birthday boy is the wasp beetle which parades on the July 24 usually and survives by pretending to be a wasp. The musk beetle which has a pleasant smell if handled comes out on June 24.
Gigantic cockchafers buzz past like doodlebugs on 20 May while cardinals are just a week later. They are the colour of cardinal floor polish if you can remember that far back and they look like the cardinals of the Grand Inquisition if you paid attention to history lessons in school.
Thick-legged flower beetles are one of our favourites, on May 15, with their metallic, shiny green dress and dancers’ thighs. There are skipjacks and soldier beetles too, the latter always in tandem on ragwort as the female takes her mate for an endless ride, the lazy beggar.
Devil’s coach-horses run past the door on October 3, and give us a nip with their jaws if we try to shake a paw. As for butterflies’ birthdays, they too are predictable. I only have to look at the weekly counts I have made for the past 47 years to see when to expect each species to appear. But global warming has brought them out slightly earlier decade by decade. Meadow browns never had a birthday in the 1970s before July 1. This year they were partying on June 4. Purple emperors are supposed to have their big day on July 5. This year, it was June 25.
Speckled wood butterflies have birthdays three times a year, apparently, though what you are seeing from spring to autumn are the three generations, the last being grandchildren of the spring broods.
As for the moths such as yellow underwings – well, I look for them in mid-July, when the bats in my garage have feasted on them and scattered their remains during their own birthday parties.