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Where have all the Christmas beetles gone?

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Proceeds from the sale of this beetle print will go to WWF to regenerate crucial habitat.

Christmas beetles are an iconic beetle unique to Australia. Of the 36 species in the genus, only one is found outside of Australia.

Records from the 1920s tell stories of beetles appearing as gold clouds all around Sydney harbour, and tree branches bending and snapping into the water under the sheer weight of the swarms.

100 years later Christmas beetles are all but gone. In my short lifetime I've seen them disappear. My teen memories in the early 2000s were balmy summer christmas nights with a soundtrack of beetles ricocheting off fluorescent lights and tapping into the flyscreen with a soft rhythmic *pat pat pat*. Somewhere in the 2010s I noticed the sound was gone. Maybe there was a lone beetle here or there, but around me I suddenly started hearing the question repeated more and more "where have the Christmas beetles gone?"

From the Australian Museum:

If we accept that Christmas beetles have declined in

central Sydney, the next question is ‘why?’. Their dual life history provides a clue. The adults need eucalypt leaves, and the larvae need the roots of grasses, presumably native grasses. An important habitat for them, the Cumberland Plain woodland, was once widespread in Western Sydney, but less than 10% remains. The sprawl of Sydney is now bulging at the seams with 4.5 million people, and Western Sydney has absorbed much of the growth. The beetles’ former habitat is now a brick, concrete and tarmac jungle.

If you trace a 150km circle around Sydney you capture a space with the same story:

paddocks replaced with cul-de-sacs,

100 year old trees "deforested" only to be replaced

with a woefully inadequate eucalyptus sapling.

shade hopping down the footpath between concrete-bound trees

summers heating the black road and melting the rubber under your shoes

This iconic beetle needs green pastures to thrive and so do we. Climate action is urgently needed to take carbon out of the atmosphere, and grasslands are one of our best technologies to do that: it's called 'drawdown'.

Proceeds from the sale of this beetle print will go to WWF to regenerate crucial habitat.

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