These gorgeous creatures with their jewel-like, iridescent wings are rose chafer beetles.
Found over most of southern and central Europe, they are also relatively common in the southern part of the UK. The adults are variable in colour: usually dark metallic green, as in our picture, but also golden-green, bronze, blue/black or grey with undertones of purple and fuchsia.
Rose chafers (Cetonia aurata) are usually seen in sunny weather feeding on the petals of flowers, especially roses – hence the name. Adults can often be seen from early summer and are very quick to take off and fly if disturbed.
The larvae of Cetonia aurata are detritivores, or detritus eaters; that is, they eat detritus such as decaying leaves and vegetable matter, thereby contributing to the ecosystem. They are considered to be as beneficial as earthworms when it comes to making compost.
The beauty of their wings though, has sadly led to their abuse and misuse – the wings, and sometimes the entire beetle, have for centuries been used in jewellery and other decorative arts, and modern examples can still be found online.
Seeing these in the specimen drawers which house the extensive (mainly Victorian) insect collection of the Scarborough Collections also sparked a memory of one of my favourite childhood books – Gerald Durrell’s wonderful My Family and Other Animals.
In it Durrell, later a renowned naturalist, describes his childhood in Corfu and the rose-beetle man, a local character:
“With one hand he held his pipe to his mouth, and in the other a number of lengths of cotton, to each of which was tied an almond-size rose-beetle, glittering golden green in the sun, all of them flying round his hat with desperate, deep buzzings, trying to escape from the thread tied firmly round their waists. Occasionally, tired of circling round and round without success, one of the beetles would settle for a moment on his hat, before launching itself off once more on its endless merry-go-round. When he saw us the rose-beetle man stopped, gave a very exaggerated start, doffed his ridiculous hat and swept us a low bow.”