Wild Guide

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From Missouri Conservationist: May 2020

May Beetles | Phyllophaga spp.




½–1 inch (adults); ¾–2 inches (larvae)



It’s hard to think of summer without immediately conjuring up the familiar sights and sounds of May beetles buzzing clumsily around porch lights, crashing onto the ground, lying helplessly on their backs, legs waving wildly. May beetles are nocturnal, and are drawn to light at night. They belong to a large family of beetles called scarabs. As with other scarabs, they are oval and stout and are usually brown, rusty, or black.

Ecosystem Connections

Many animals root out the grubs and eat them, including skunks, moles, and birds. Other animals, including birds and frogs, eat the adults. Several types of flies and wasps prey on the adults and larvae, laying eggs on them that hatch and devour the host.

Life Cycle

Females deposit their eggs a few inches into the soil, often near trees. The grubs live underground for one to four years (depending on species), feeding on plant roots, and descend much lower into the soil to overwinter. They emerge as adults to fly, mate, and lay eggs.


As adults, May beetles eat plant leaves and flowers. In their larval, or grub, stage, May beetles eat roots and decaying plant material in the soil.

Human Connections

When beetles are numerous, their feeding can cause serious damage to lawns and crops. The grubs serve as live fishing bait, one of the few types plentiful in spring.

Did You Know?

May beetles are named for the month they are most numerous. These light-loving creatures are clumsy walkers and fliers. There are more than 400 species of these beetles, which are difficult to distinguish.

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Larry Archer

Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler