Cockchafer (mclolontha vulgaris, Fab.), a European insect, belonging to the lamellicorn family of the order coleojrtera or beetles. The genus melolontha was established by Fabricius, who first separated it from scarabceus. The body of the melolonthians is oblong oval, convex, and usually of a brownish color; the antennas have nine or ten joints, five to seven of which are flattened into leaf-like pieces, which open like the leaves of a book; the jaws are horny and powerful for cutting and grinding the leaves and roots of plants; the thorax is nearly square; the wing cases leave uncovered the hinder extremity of the body; the legs are long, the first pair being armed externally with two or three teeth, which enables them readily to penetrate the ground; the claws of all are notched, which gives them a firm hold of the leaves. The habits and transformations of this species are well known, and will serve as a type for all the melolonthidce, which are all more or less hurtful to vegetation, as they feed on plants from their birth to their death. Their duration in the perfect state is very short, each individual living about a week, and the species wholly disappearing in the course of a month.

After the pairing of the sexes, the males perish, and the females dig a hole in the earth six inches deep, by means of their fore feet, in which the eggs are deposited to the number of 100 to 200; after this they return to the surface, and soon die. In two weeks little whitish grubs are hatched from these eggs, with six legs near the head, and strong jaws, which attach themselves to the tender roots, and commit often the most deplorable ravages; for three or four summers the larvae live near the surface, sinking below the reach of frost as winter approaches, and remaining torpid till spring, when they change their skin, and ascend to the surface for food. When they have reached their full growth, they cease eating, and bury themselves about two feet deep, each constructing a kind of lodge, smoothly lined by some glutinous silky substance thrown from the mouth; in this it is changed into a pupa or nymph, casting off its skin, displaying through the new envelope the parts of the perfect insect. In the month of February the cockchafer pierces this envelope, and three months afterward makes its appearance during the night in its final form. The ravages committed by these larvae are often as extensive as those of the locust tribe.

According to Kirby and Spence, they destroy whole acres of grass by devouring the roots, undermine the richest meadows, and eat the roots of wheat and other grains, and those of young trees; in England, Ireland, and France whole crops have been repeatedly destroyed by them. They are equally destructive in their perfect state. During the month of May they come forth from the ground, whence they have been called May bugs and May beetles. They are sometimes called also dor bugs. They pass the greater part of the day in a quiet state, attached to the branches and leaves of trees; as evening approaches, they become active, buzzing about from tree to tree in search of food, and for the purpose of pairing. Their flight is dull, heavy, and irregular; they fall against objects in their way with a force which often brings them to the ground; they continue their flight till about midnight, and they frequently fly in at the window, being attracted and bewildered by the light of a lamp. In the "Philosophical Transactions" for 1697, it is stated that a few years before they were so numerous in Gal way, Ireland, that they filled the hedges and trees, clinging to each other like swarms of bees, and when flying darkening the air like a cloud; in a short time all the foliage for miles around was consumed, and the trees in midsummer were as bare as in winter.

Mouflet, in his "History of Insects," says that in 1574 so many cockchafers were driven into the river Severn that the wheels of the mills were stopped. To check these ravages many methods have been employed, but nature has provided better means in the numerous animals and birds which feed upon them. - In America there are several melolonthians, whose ravages are nearly as great as those of the European cockchafer. The most common is the May beetle (ijhyllophaga quercina, Enoch). This is of a chestnut-brown color, smooth, and finely covered with little impressed dots; each wing case has two or three slightly elevated longitudinal lines; the breast is clothed with a yellowish down; its length is about nine tenths of an inch. The perfect insect feeds on the leaves of trees, particularly on those of the cherry. It flies at night in May and June, and often enters houses, attracted by the light. The grub is a white worm with a brownish head, and when fully grown is nearly as thick as the little finger; it devours the roots of grass and other plants, in some cases completely undermining the turf; it is, in turn, greedily eaten by crows and domestic fowls, and the skunk is very fond of the full-grown insects.

The best way to get rid of them is to shake the trees in the morning, when they do not attempt to fly, and collect them on cloths spread below; they should then be thrown into boiling water to kill them, when they may be given as food to swine. This insect is also called dor bug. There are several other species of melolonthians in America, varying in size from seven tenths to nine tenths of an inch, all nocturnal in their habits, and more or less injurious to gardens, nurseries, and orchards; they also devour the leaves of many forest trees.

Cockchafer

1. Cockchafer (Melolontha vulgaris). 2. Larva, back view. 3. Larva, side view. 4. Pupa, under side. 5. Pupa, upper side.

Cockchafer.

Cockchafer.