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Uncovering Darwin's Christmas Beetles

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

Darwin is well known for its incredible tropical biodiversity, with the landscape teeming with seemingly infinite life during the wet season. Beetles of many types emerge during the first wet season rains and can be found in every city and rural backyards. Colourful ones, brown ones, big ones with horns and even big ones with jaws! But, are any of these Christmas Beetles?

Many species across Australia have been dubbed the name 'Christmas Beetle' for their colours and emergence in the summer. Throughout the country we see a variety of beetles from completely different families being called this name.

The Golden Stag Beetle from south-east Australia, often called a Christmas Beetle although it is not in the same family

Although it is just a common name and not a true signature of their identity, one group of beetles are unanimously given the festive name. They are the Anoplognathina sub-tribe of Scarab Beetles which are distributed across Australia and Papua New Guinea. The most well known genus, Anoplognathus, has 36 species spread across the country, with the large majority found in the dense forests of eastern Australia. These beetles are well known to Australians and were once found in much larger numbers than at present.

A true Christmas Beetle of the Anoplognathus genus photographed from south-east Queensland.

Darwin has a lot of Scarab Beetle species of all different colours and shapes, including the large infamous Rhinoceros Beetles. There are three types of scarabs that are commonly called Christmas Beetles by locals. There are two colourful Cetoniid Flower Chafers, in Hemipharis insuralis and Dilochrosis brownii, along with the genus Lepidiota, the Cane Beetles.

Darwin beetles mistaken for Christmas Beetles, they are Green Flower Chafer, Brown's Flower Chafer and Cane Beetle.

All of these beetles can be very common during the build up and first rains, with the two colourful species zooming at head-height through parklands or encountered on garden flowers. The Cane Beetles are often found attracted to house lights at night, often confusing new locals from down south that they are the 'Christmas Beetles' they were once familiar with.

The Top End of the Northern Territory only hosts two species from the Anoplognathina sub-tribe, Anoplognathus brevicollis and Anoplostethus roseus, which are very scarce and after two years of searching I have only come across one specimen of the latter. Around Darwin, the Rose Christmas Beetle (Anoplostethus roseus) has been recorded in Berry Springs, Humpty Doo and Howard Springs. Anoplognathus brevicollis has been recorded further south in the Daly River region. The Rose Christmas Beetle may be the only true member of the Christmas Beetle family to occur in Darwin.

The Rose Christmas Beetle (Anoplostethus roseus), is found scarcely in the Darwin rural area

So the next time you see a beetle buzzing by your backyard light, take a closer look and you might be lucky enough to one day see a true Christmas Beetle in Darwin! Or alternatively, just appreciate and enjoy every beetle you see, as at the end of the day, they all can be Christmas Beetles unless you're a proper bug nerd!


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