June Bug — Little brown beetles famous for their incessant bumping into porch lights and houses on a late spring to summer evening. Often tries to sneak into houses, either by flying right in when the door is open, or by hitching a ride on somebody’s clothes like a little ninja. Harmless to humans and cannot bite. Despite their name, they can come out as early as May . — Urban Dictionary
At night, the yard light high on the pole looks like a partial eclipse of the sun, its illumination blocked by hundreds of large, winged pests.
In the morning, the havoc is evident by a deck covered with tree leaves — and dozens of the brown, hard-shelled insects on their backs, doing some sort of death dance, feet clawing at the air.
If it’s June, it must be time for June Bugs, and the tall Siberian Elm, the only shade tree for our old farm house, is reeling from a frontal attack.
These bugs, also known as May beetles since that’s when they show up, love munching on elm leaves. They are not interested in my cottonwoods, which is fortunate, since those are the second plantings.
The cottonwoods face different foes: The deer attack up high, taking delight in destroying the bark by rubbing their antlers along the tender trunk until the bark is gone; rabbits focus on the lower region, feasting on the tree’s tender outer layer. And of course Old Man Winter tends to freeze the uppermost branches, attempting to turn trees into bushes.
My grandfather remarked that the prairie of Lyman County isn’t “tree country.” God made the plains unmarked by trees so its raw beauty would stretch uncluttered all the way to the horizon. Cedars defy the elements that take most untended trees, and perhaps a few Russian Olives weather nature’s onslaught. But the prairie is not tree friendly.
Dutifully I sweep up the morning mess of June Bugs and inspect the elm, not the prettiest tree on the planet or the heartiest. Its chief positive trait is that it grows quickly and offers a nice canopy for shade. When I planted the first batch of cottonwoods a few years ago, I had difficulty purchasing them. Many nurseries don’t carry them, focusing instead on hardwoods and ornamentals. Why would you want to plant a cottonwood, one man asked. I replied: Because I’m no longer young, and I want to enjoy some shade from these trees.
It appears the battle is won with the June Bugs. The leaves shot through with holes are mostly gone and new ones have taken their place.
Out our way, June Bugs don’t show up with such ferocity each year, for which my wounded, but recovering, elm tree is thankful.
June 15, 2016