Mount Hermon June BeetleEnvironment 

Protecting the Endangered Mount Hermon June Beetle

By Gael Norrington

It’s summer again and all across the country Junebugs are busy with the business of procreation. Here in the sandhills of the San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley, you may encounter a singularly rare species, the Mount Hermon June Beetle (Polyphylla barbata), which is found nowhere else on the planet.

Dependent on a limited environment in the Santa Cruz sandhills, these little critters are on the federal endangered species list, mostly due to habitat loss; and their short adult lifespans don’t help. After spending most of their lives as grubs underground feeding on roots, they emerge after several years with only a short time to mate and lay eggs before they die. Adults do not eat.

In the early evening each summer, June through July, these beetles surface together from the sand. Only males can fly, splaying out their fan-like antennae to track the pheromones that lead them to females waiting by their burrows. With their chunky bodies and oversized antennae, they are clumsy flyers indeed, and usually stay near the ground scanning for mates. 

Mount Hermon June Beetle | By Cara Wilcox

Limit Outdoor Lighting

During their evening flights, these beetles are vulnerable to another major threat: outdoor lighting. Should they have the misfortune to approach a porch lamp, they may be doomed to exhaust themselves circling the light and die without ever finding a mate.

This is where we can help to make a difference! If all of us who live near the sandhills could cut back on outside lighting between 8 and 10 pm during these summer months, it could boost their chances of survival.

If you live near the sandhills, you may have already met the Mount Hermon June Beetle. Some people find them to be a bit frightening, as they are noisy creatures who buzz and produce squeaky hisses when disturbed, but that’s only a bluff. They are harmless and cannot bite or sting. They only want to find their flightless mates. With a little help from us, there is hope these rare endangered beetles will continue to survive in our unique sandhill ecosystem.

Learn more about the Santa Cruz sandhills by watching this presentation by ecologist Dr. Jodi McGraw on YouTube at youtu.be/c1wG-JS5VFo and check out the following resources:
sempervirens.org/news/santa-cruz-sandhills
santacruzsandhills.com/overview.html

Local artist Gael Norrington, a graduate of the Natural Science Illustration program at UCSC, lives at the edge of the sandhills in Ben Lomond, where she enjoys learning about this rare and fragile ecosystem.

Featured photo: Laloer – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91875421

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