The Beetle Diary



"O rose, thou'rt sick!"

Seldom has a line by William Blake been hissed with such specific viciousness.

"You OK?" my neighbor Joe asks me. "I've been watching you for a while now. Just standing there glaring into that rosebush." He is kind enough not to add "and talking to yourself."

Actually, what I've been glaring at for the past five or 10 minutes is one single pink rose. One single pink and black rose.

"All I can say is, I wouldn't want to be whatever it is you're looking at!"

That's for sure, Joe. You wouldn't want to be the most vile and repulsive form of animal life known to Planet Earth. You wouldn't want to be a Japanese beetle.

I'm sure William Blake had something symbolic in mind when he described a rose whose "bed/ Of crimson joy" had been invaded by vermin.

Well, there's nothing symbolic about what ails this rose right here. Japanese beetles don't symbolize plague and death. They are plague and death. Discovering a clutch of Japanese beetles chomping on your favorite rosebush is like discovering a cancer growing on your favorite expanse of suntanned skin. It's a needle of pure horror pithing your spine.

What to do? Where are my gardener-father's old-fashioned Japanese beetle traps, jerry-rigged jars on poles, baited with lord only knows what, reeking with the sick-sweet smell of dead bugs and, underneath that, a whiff of cleaning kerosene?

But then it was my father who always ended his beetle-war stories by sighing that Japanese beetles will outlast us all.


Luckily, the garden stores are open Sundays. I have to visit every one of them in a 10-mile radius to collect the material currently deemed necessary to battle beetles. One store manages to dig up the one beetle trap still in stock. Another is able to sell me a small supply of beetle bait. ("Only the floral-scent bait. We're completely sold out of sex lure.") Sex lure, in the form of a tiny green stick-on patch, can be had at Store 3. Store 4 still has a couple of the hooked metal stakes you need to hang the trap on.

I guess I'm not alone in my beetle mania.


At the patio table, my husband and I shoo yellowjackets away from the fruit salad. Every couple of seconds I glance over at the nearby rose bed where the bright-yellow beetle trap provides one of the few notes of color among my ex-roses.

"Funny you don't hate yellowjackets," my husband comments as I nonchalantly wave at these uninvited dinner guests.

Funny indeed. Only a few weeks ago I accidentally tangled with a whole nest of yellowjackets in the cellar-way. Forty-some stings later, I still don't feel any major animosity toward yellowjackets.

But beetles . . .

My husband is in the middle of saying something terribly perceptive about some current event when suddenly my grilled-tuna-filled mouth goes slack, midchew. Slooooowly I turn . . .


In one Kabuki-like move I leap up and administer a savage double-handed Japanese sword-blow (well, OK, an American broom-blow) to a rosebush where a family of beetles are enjoying their dinner.

Enjoying my roses. Despite the beetle trap.


Home from work at lunchtime. Low humidity, golden sunshine. Yellow beetle trap among brown rosebushes. The jaws of the beetle trap are black with beetles, and the beetle body-bag has grown fat.

I force myself to look hard at one beetle as it crawls along the rim of the trap. Close up, a Japanese beetle isn't merely black. It's black, green, golden, and irridescent. A jewel. No wonder the ancient Egyptians made the scarab (a beetle, remember!) one of their main artistic motifs. A real Japanese beetle is much handsomer than the onyx beetle in my Egyptian bracelet.

End of meditation. I flick the thing into the no-return channel of the trap.

"Die like a dog in an alleyway, infidel devil!"

This isn't the real me. The real me doesn't quote bloodthirsty villain-speeches from old Tony Curtis movies. The real me carries the occasional house-spider outdoors between gently cupped hands, to give it its freedom. The real me forgave the carpenter ants that ate the entire back porch.

But these are Japanese beetles.


I see something surreal as I glance out the back door while grinding morning coffee.

My tallest red rose -- a tough guy of a rose, not very bright or charming but still a favorite because of its staunch resistance to attack -- has died and come back as a ghost. Its few petals and its leaf-clusters with their slender green stemlets are all gone, except for what looks like a pencil outline of where they used to be. A lacy skeleton.


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