A beetle from summer

Grapevine Beetle

When I returned to my parents’ this week my mom had brought out a beetle she had found while shopping downtown in the local town back in the summer, following a conversation we’d had earlier this week on a subject I can’t recall now. The beetle was dead when she found it, so she picked it up and brought it home with her. It was a warm reddish-tan, with large black spots down each side of the carapace, and one in the middle of the back. It’s obviously a member of the scarab beetles family, and further research revealed it to be a Grapevine Beetle, Pelidnota punctata.

Ordinarily a dead beetle on the sidewalk would probably have been passed by unnoticed, but the size of this particular beetle was what caught her eye. Below is an image of the beetle posed with a (live) ladybug for comparison. The scarab family contains 1300 species, some of them the largest beetles in North America. Grapevine Beetles can grow up to an inch long, which is not quite up to the six inches of the southern Hercules Beetle, but is still a pretty impressive beetle for this part of the country.

Grapevine Beetle and ladybug

I’ve never seen this beetle alive myself; in fact, this is the first time I’ve seen it ever, which seems somewhat unusual for what looks like it should be a rather conspicuous bug. It seems fairly common, occuring through most of the east from Ontario south to northern Florida and west to Nebraska. The adults can be found from May to August through much of its range, and will regularly come to lights in the summer.

Grapevine Beetle head

It inhabits deciduous forests. Adults feed on the foliage and fruit of grapevines (hence the species’ common name), but appear to do little serious damage. It lays its eggs in the summer on decaying logs, which the larva feed on during their development. Larva overwinter in the logs, pupating and emerging as adults in the spring. I found one site that offered care information for the species, but aside from a couple comments on the web, couldn’t see any evidence that it was frequently kept in captivity.

Grapevine Beetle head

One of the features of scarabs is their club-like antennae. You can sort of see here that the club is actually many-parted. These plates are called lamellae, and the beetle can fan them out when sensing odours. When it’s not testing the air, it folds them up out of the way. This individual’s a little dusty from sitting on a shelf since the summer, but in this and the previous photo you can also see the mouthparts it uses to cut bits of vegetation. In the previous photo you can get a better view of the upper cutting mandibles, and the lower manipulating ones.

Grapevine Beetle legs

Beetles, like many insects, have hairy legs and bodies, under their smooth carapaces. These hairs are called setae, and are used for sensing the environment. Generally they sense small changes in air pressure.

Take a look at the claws at the end of this guy’s feet. The claws are primarily used to help the beetle secure itself to whatever it’s walking on. However, in scarabs the front claws are modified for digging. You can see how much more curved they are on this individual. Grapevine Beetles aren’t really diggers the way some scarabs are (such as dung beetles), but they retain the characteristics of the group.

In looking up information on beetle feet, I discovered this site that is doing research on the applications of beetle-foot design to modern technology. One of the main things they’ve developed from it is an adhesive that’s twice as sticky as glue-based tapes, and is reusable simply by washing with soap and water. I wasn’t quite clear on the specifics of the technology from their description, but it uses the principle of a beetle’s hairy feet (I gather this is a characteristic of a different family of beetles), which act like a thousand little suction cups on long threads. The suction cups adhere to the surface, while the long threads allow dust motes and other debris to slip between the affixing surfaces, so it can attach to dusty and dirty surfaces as well. The lab’s site has videos of their Mini-Whegs robots scaling vertical glass walls using the adhesive. I’m on dial-up while here at my parents’, so wasn’t able to watch them, but even just the idea is pretty cool.


Author: Seabrooke

Author of Peterson Field Guide to Moths. #WriteOnCon Mastermind. Writer of action/thriller SF/F YA. Story junkie. Nature nut. Tea addict. Mother. Finding happiness in the little things. Twitter: @SeabrookeN / @SeabrookeLeckie

46 thoughts on “A beetle from summer”

  1. I catch quite a few Grapevine Beetles each summer in my back yard moth trap here in Toronto, they appear to be highly responsive to light. It seems to be not uncommon, although the folks next door do have an extensive grapevine in their garden. It is indeed an impressive beast, though they do tend to blunder around and disturb the moths once inside the trap! This summer I’m going to make more effort to try and identify things other than moths that end up in my moth traps. Almost time to reactivate the old blog…

  2. When I think of moth trap I kind of think that that’s all that’d be in there when you open up the lid, but I suppose in reality there’s actually a whole lot else that’s drawn to light as well. It’d be interesting to see what all is amongst this “remainder”. Looking forward to reading the regular updates again!

  3. Hi, I’ve found your blog through Exploratorium’s blogroll. I like how you take the time to look at the details, and your macros are great! Your balance of scientific information and autobiographical chit-chat is the style I like to read.
    I’ve never seen a grapevine beetle either, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled this year when Junebug season rolls around.

  4. Thanks, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog, LavenderBay – it’s definitely the style of blogging I enjoy writing, as well. There’s so much to learn, and I enjoy sharing my findings and knowledge so others can partake of it all as well. :) Let me know if you spot any beetles!

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  6. hey i was bumbling around the web and found your beetle. it so happens one flew into my room a few nights ago. after making an infernal racket fluttering into everyting i finally caught it and got it some grape leaves. he’s a clumsy little guy, reminds me of a two toed tree sloth. his head moves in and out from underneath his shell in a funny way that i never noticed in any beetles before. but in the movie “the fifth element” they got it just right on those wierd creatures in the egyptian tomb at the beginning!

    he munches and shits all day. i wonder if its a male or female? i know how to sex hymenoptera but not beetles. hmm..

  7. My wife found one in the kitchen last night. I hadn’t seen one before. Not sure if they are common in Pennsylvania, but they are interesting. This one is still alive. It’s a slow mover, but when airborne it’s quick and has a distinctive hum.

  8. It’s great to hear from people who’re finding the beetle – interestingly, I have yet to actually see a live one, myself!

  9. I caught one in my backyard a couple nights ago. As barry says, it pretty much poops all day and eats some apple chunks that I feed it. When it eats, it flips over and using the first and second pairs of legs rotates the chunk of apple to make eating more comfortable. Very interesting.

    It’s by far the biggest beetle I’ve seen here in Toronto.

  10. There is one of these sitting on my garage molding right now under a light. It scared the crap out of me and I didnt know what it was. I thought it was some sort of mutant ladybug. I am on Long Island, NY.

  11. We have been raising grapes for years. This morning while trimming the vines I found three of these on the ground under the vines. This is the first I have ever seen one. Spent most of the morning on the web trying to decide what they are. Just by accident after hitting dozens of sites I found yours. Mine havent flown yet but someone says they do.
    Have one captured in a jar with grape leaves and it is really munching away. Yes and piles of “poop” all over the jar. Interesting site.
    Thanks for the information

  12. Hi Great blog! We live in south central Wisconsin. I found you while searching the web for info on a beetle that was on our back screen door this morning. My husband spotted it and called me over to take a look see as I am BIG on BUGS. Anyway, the buggy Sherlock Holmes in me began intense observation, deduced it must be drawn to light as it was near the one on the back porch, measured it and off I went. I discovered it was a grapevine beetle and I am so excited as I had never seen one before. The natural world is soooooooooo marvelous, always something, everyday, in a square foot of grass or under a leaf, in the sky or coursing the creek, always something to discover that keeps the sense of awe alive.

  13. Thanks for stopping by, everyone! I enjoy hearing people’s stories about their encounters with the creatures I’ve written about. I’m glad people are finding the page helpful!

  14. Took me about an hour to locate this particular bug online. I have one clinging to my screen door this evening, as seems to be a common habit of this particular species. The thing freaked me out — it’s close to an inch long. In fact, I was about to take the dog out but decided to go out the opposite side of the house to avoid a confrontation. I took a great photo using a 300mm lens so I could keep my distance. There is a ladybug on the screen also, about 12 inches away from the grapevine beetle. From what I’ve read so far, it looks like this guy is non-threatening. Still, imagine you’re sitting outside chatting with someone and the thing lands on your companion’s face — EESH — sends shivers down my spine. Great blog, love your style and the time you took to analyze this creature. I am located in Southeastern Wisconsin.

  15. Today one of my dogs was sniffing and scratching at the decaying tree stump in our backyard. Low and behold I saw this ghastly mutant ladybug like beatle – orange but only 1 spot on each wing. It looked huge to me. Out of sheer terror I almost stepped on it but I am glad that I didn’t. It’s actually a quite attractive beatle. It crawled into a hole in the tree stump. We do have a grapevine growing on a nearby fence but it has only 4 grapes on it (not 4 bunches, just 4 grapes….). Glad to know this beetle isn’t too destructive. I’ll be happy that it has a home and be thankful that the grubs might help eliminate the tree stump.

  16. i was not sure what kind it was until now. my mom was telling me about a beele that came over from either china or japan that was a danger to our trees, and to call a national person to spray them, so i am happy that i found your website , that the one I found was not harmful. thanks cindy

  17. Hi, I found your site as I was looking up the grapevine beetle, which I found in my backyard this summer ON a grapevine. We found the beetle, took photos and enjoyed watching it, and released it right away, only to find it every few days for a couple of weeks on the same vine. It was so easy to spot, I’m surprised I never saw one before either, like many people on this site. It’s grippy feet allow it to walk easily right on the smooth surface of a vertical grape leaf. Happy to see so many people enjoying the small treasures found in nature, hey I’m not as alone as I thought!

  18. Apparently these beetles are good fliers because one flew into my wife’s hair tonight. She was working in our flower garden in Westchester county NY. No grape vines in sight.

  19. Yeah, Barb, I just found one here on my kitchen floor in Connecticut! I heard a noise last night and couldn’t find anything, then lo and behold here it was! I put a piece of apple in the container I have the beetle in temporarily. I’ll release it in a few minutes if it doesn’t eat. It’s fun to watch!

  20. Found one on the screen door this morning! So exciting! I love big bugs, but big insects are rarely seen in Nebraska! I thought maybe it was lost, but through google images, managed to locate an image that happened to be on your blog of the exact same species! Thanks for the info, it was fun reading everyone elses experiences!

  21. Just found one in Kansas City, MO. I was wondering if it was a mega-muncher on veggie crops or not. Since he doesn’t seem to be a major nuisance per the info provided, I think I’ll let him go. I haven’t seen any others like him before.

  22. Twenty minutes ago we were sitting in the living room watching Food Network Star (just having returned from a neighborhood bike ride) when our 13 year old daughter started yelling for us from her bedroom upstairs. When we ran to see what was wrong, she pointed out a LARGE 2 1/4″ beetle on her pillow that she shook from her hair!! I quickly scooped it up and took it to the computer to identify it while my wife comforted her. Thanks to your website and these stories, we were able to identify it as a Grapevine Beetle. That was the most exciting, mysterious, and CREEPY bug we have EVER seen in person that was ALIVE and not behind glass pinned to a board in a museum! God has certainly created some AMAZING creatures! –Sewickley, PA

  23. Thank you for your entry about the grapevine beetle. I just found one in my compost bin. After identifying him from your photos, he has been spared — I thought maybe he was an invasive Japanese beetle, and I was debating whether to do away with him! I thank you, and I’m sure the beetle does, too.
    Elaine in Milwaukee, WI

  24. I had a live one live into my screen door and land about 30 minitues ago. This one is about 1.5 inches long, I live in London, Ontario.

  25. Gorgeous bugs but we found a bunch of their larvae in our newly sodded, yet dying grass. Since they’ve hatched, we’ve seen about 20 of them! We’re in Toronto.

  26. thank you for this blog! I flew into my daughter’s room and freaked out the kids when they were playing. My neighbors were bent on killing it since it scared all the kids including the teenagers lol! It’s a lil over an inch long and light brown/beige with six spots. I captured it and will be keeping it for showing the preK class I volunteer with. :)

    Hailing from Richmond Hill Queens, NY

  27. Saw one last week on the sidewalk at night, alive. I live in an area in Toronto where many people grow grapes, so it makes a lot of sense! Thank you for the great description of the beetle, I had no idea what it was when I saw it, but it caught my eye because of its size, nearly 2 inches long, and it’s suspicious resemblance to the colouring of the ladybug. Great pictures by the way.

  28. Minnesota here! Just had one scare me half to death in my garage! I could hear the legs scraping as it climbed up a paper bag! This one is at least and inch and a half long. Have never seen one before! I wonder if our unuaually hot summer has anythiing to do with it?

  29. hey thanx for helping me identify this beetle~! found one on my sage plant this morning & was amazed but i did wonder if i ought to be distressed… we are in the catskills of south-central new york & none of the locals here were familiar so i wonder if it’s a new visitor~? i gather so far that it is not destructive & it’s certainly striking in appearance~! fabulous… tho it flew away just when i brought my camera out so alas no live pic…

  30. I just had one of the grapvine beetles flying around our light outside so I got a broom and captured it , had a look at its beautful color and let’s him/her fly away. Was very neat !!

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  32. Have one that is just staying on my lawnchair & has for 3 days. Why is he not going anywhere. It seems he would starve to death. Should I pick him off the chair & put him in the grass? Thanks

  33. i just found one of these flying around the lamp post on my deck outside tonight. He was flying around the lamp post making a racket from pining off the lamp post. When he landed i picked him up thinking he might be a cicada, but it wasn’t. i was impressed the size i never saw a beetle this big. He is very pretty and friendly he crawled around my hand, seemed to enjoy being handled for a bit, then he opened his wings and flew back to the lamp post and i went and picked him up again, my hub thinks im nuts playing with a “bug” lol. i ran my finger down his back very softly, nice hard shell i was worried he might pinch me but he didn’t, i opened my hand and he walked across my palm to the edge opened his wings and again to the lampost so i let him be, i could have picked him up again but i didn’t, then he flew around the lamp and took off. I was sad, I’m 47 yrs old and never saw this type of beetle. Nature truly is beautiful.

  34. Just had one of these beetles land in our hanging flower rack. The pictures you posted were one of the few that made it easy to identify.

  35. Just laid down fresh mulch in my flower-beds here in North-West Ohio. So, they lay their eggs on decaying logs?
    Don’t know of any grapevines in the immediate area, though, I do subconsciously remember finding these out in the forest when I was young.
    * Tastes great seasoned with chili powder , served over zucchini and green peppers.

  36. I live in Southeastern Wisconsin. Sitting on my bed folding laundry with my twelve year old daughter. All of a sudden a huge “thing” was flying around my room hitting the light over and over again. Finally it landed on my husbands work shirt hanging behind the door. Sorry, I’m a bug killer. My weapon of choice is spray cleaner. I sprayed the crap out of it while screaming like an idiot and rushed it outside. Now I have read what it was and I feel bad.

  37. One just popped out of an unused chimney and bumbled tentatively on my bedroom floor. Very easy to catch. It’s now in a jar with a bit of wet paper towel and a few champagne grapes (best I could do in the middle of the night). Lovely, delicate trifurcated tips on the antennae. Will release it outside tomorrow, as there should be enough wild grape in the area to keep it happy. (Pittsburgh)

  38. I caught a handsome grapevine beetle in June and took some close-up pictures of his head, legs and antennae using a low-power microscope. Photographing a living insect under a microscope can be difficult, but he was kind enough to sit still for a half hour.

    “Barney” has been a member of the family for more than 4 months now, living on a diet of lettuce, little chunks of banana, etc. He seems to love lettuce. His home is a terrarium containing some small branches, leaves, etc. He enjoys sleeping up-side-down while clinging to a leaf. I sometimes take him out and let him crawl on my hands while I’m watching television. He’s only flown one time. My 14-year-old son is quite attached to Barney and is always checking on him.

    I’ve noticed that the beetle’s shell markings have gradually changed, with an increase in dark splotches. I was actually looking for information about this when I stumbled upon this wonderful essay. Perhaps the splotches are simply indicative of old age, as he’s likely survived longer than he would have in my backyard.

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