Monday, 15 May 2017

In praise of Maybugs

The month of May is welcome for all sorts of obvious reasons, among them my birthday on May 18th. One of the less obvious, and perhaps less widely-shared, is the arrival of that comical creature, the Maybug, officially known as the Cockchafer.

Resembling a cartoon armoured car from some futuristic comic, it bumbles about on the ground and flies like a cumbersome helicopter. It is one of those endearing beetley things which gets in a tremendous pickle if it falls on its back, though by dint of manoeuvring those scaly legs, it eventually manages to right itself.

Its finest features are the antennae which gradually unfurl from little russet packages into the sort of mobile TV aerial you can see below. Once these are out and the wing-cases on its back start to divide, you can be sure that it will grind off whirringly into the sky within a short time.

It is well worth spending time on Google if you are interested in this beetle, which comes with a terrific load of history and folklore. Disliked for centuries as a pest of potatoes and other crops, it was sentenced to banishment by a court in Avignon in 1320, inspired Nicola Tesla to design his first (Maybug-powered) flying machine and often takes the same role in German children's books, such as Max and Moritz, right, as the ladybird does in ours.

I have always thought that the anti-hero of Stella Gibbons' tour de force Cold Comfort Farm, Mr Mybug, is simply based on the beetle, because some people instinctively dislike them, their appearance and their hectic flight in the way that others treat moths.

For myself, I feel that they are well worth getting to know.

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