There were a lot of stories last year about bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) infesting New York. These parasitic insects are however rarely seen, attacking their victims at night whilst asleep. However my wife was recently tidying one of our daughter’s beds, when she was rather shocked to find a rather larger dead bug under her pillow – a Cockchafer or Maybug (Melolontha melolontha). How it got there is quite a mystery and we are just grateful that our daughter did not find it, or she may never sleep there again (she still does not know). Her room is not called the ‘Den’ for nothing, and it certainly attracts a mixture of wildlife. I have been called to save her several times, including an invasion of gigantic slugs and spiders (so you would led to believe).
The ‘chafers’, characterised physically by the exposed tips of their abdomen are actually fairly harmful insects, both as adult and even more so as larvae, causing damage to trees and crops (Chinery, 1977). They also are known to have mass outbreaks every 30-40 years, creating even greater economic losses to a wide range of crops - This has prompted research into control methods, including trying to exploit the Cockchafers alcoholic tendencies – It would appear that the males are attracted to naturally occurring green alcohols from the leaves of tree leaves such as Beech and Oak (Reinecke, et al., 2002). However despite their voracious appetite and size (up to 35mm) they are quite harmless to us – it is just quite a shock when they crash into our human lives, drawn in by the lure of incandescent light.
Chinery, M (1977) A Field Guide to the Insects of Northern Britain. 2nd ed. Collins: London
Reinecke, A., Ruther, J., Tolasch, T., Francke, W. and Hilker, M. (2002) Alcoholism in cockchafers: orientation of male Melolontha melolontha towards green leaf alcohols. Naturwissenschaften, 89 (6):265-269