Some days ago I found several beetles along the water’s edge at Mellieha Bay. Several more were floating on the water.
All were dead except for a couple which I collected and moved to a safer place.
These beetles, like many other insects are attracted to light and they must have been confused by some lights after having emerged from their cocoon and fell in the sea.
The beetles belonged to a very common species of the scarab family. Like many members of this family it does not have a common English name and is known as a scarab beetle.
In Maltese most beetles are known as ħanfus. Like every identified plant and animal it has a unique scientific name - Phyllognathus excavatus. The males of this species have a structure on their head that resembles the horn of a rhinoceros. There are other scarab beetles with such a horn on their head which are popularly known as rhinoceros beetles.
At this time of the year it is the most common scarab beetle. It is found throughout the Mediterranean to the as to Iran and Crimea and in Senegal.
The scarab beetle family consists of over 30,000 species. Many of these beetles have bright metallic colours ranging in size from 1.5 to 160 mm. The larvae are soft bodied pale yellow or white grubs.
Most live underground or under leaves away from sunlight. The majority are scavengers and many species live on dung, dead animals or decaying vegetation.
One of the best known species of scarab is the dung beetle which was revered as sacred in ancient Egypt. Dung beetles collect dung which they shape into the shape of a ball and then roll to an underground nest. They lay eggs in it so that on hatching the larvae find a readily available rich source of food.
This article was published in The Times on 30.09.2010