Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mull of Galloway 3: An Unlikely Defence against Rabies

Last week we spent a few days in Galloway where, down on the Mull of Galloway we found several of these stunning rose chafer beetles Cetonia aurata. They seem to have a particular liking for hogweed flower umbels - in fact, I don't think we saw any on any other flower.

I spent an hour on a hot afternoon photographing them and - for such large beetles (20mm. long) - they are remarkable active, taking to the air with a loud buzz if you get too close. When rose chafers fly they extend their wings and then close their wing cases (elytra) over their abdomen again, unlike beetles like the ladybird that keep their wing cases extended to generate aerodynamic like. You can see a wonderful compostite picture of a rose chafer in flight at
- take a look, you'll be amazed.
Also take a look at a video of this beetle feeding and taking off at
and another of one hatching from a pupa at

While I was searching for these videos on the web - which has a fantastic tendency to throw up random, interesting items - I came across this remarkable snippet of information from a 150 year-old edition of the British Medical Journal (the 'hydrophobia' it refers to is the old name for rabies):

ALLEGED REMEDY FOR HYDROPHOBIA. At a recent meeting of the Academy of Sciences in Palis, M. Guerin-Meneville sent in a letter on the Cetonia aurata, or rose beetle, which for some time past has engrossed the attention of naturalists as a remedy for hydrophobia. M. Meneville stated, from personal experience, that in the governments of Voroneje and Koursk, in Russia, it is customary to give dogs half a beetle in powder from time to time, mixed with bread crumbs, as a preservative against that disease;

British Medical Journal 5th. December 1857,Medical News p. 1017


  1. Lover the colour of this beetle, and those links are fascinating Phil. Excellent pictures too.
    Great post.

  2. I haven't seen this chafer before - interesting sequence of events with the elytra while flying, and I like the way it uses its front legs to gather in the florets while feeding (in the video, looks like on Creeping Thistle?)

  3. Excellent noctule bat fodder too by the way.
    I haven't come across this one before and wondered about their distribution. Very few UK locations and no records in Galloway showing on the NBN distribution map. See:-

  4. Fancy using a beetle for rabies prevention! Your pictures are excellent.

  5. They are a fantastic colour Keith - beetle bling...

  6. Hi Rob, they are very noisy fliers too - quite a loud buzz

  7. Hi Nyctalus, I read in some Natural England document that the Mull of Galloway is their only location up there. I bet there are bats in the lighthouse buildings..

  8. Hi lotisleaf, I wonder where the idea for this use first originated - must be rooted in some kind of superstition, I suppose...

  9. c'est dommage de ne pas tout comprendre...
    mais j'aime les cétoines, les troglodytes..etc...
    et vos photos sont remarquables!