Christmas beetle on white flower

How citizen scientists are helping to save a species

8 May 2023
35 Christmas beetle species unearthed by volunteers
When architecture alumnus Michael Harvey heard that Christmas Beetle numbers were in decline, he put up his hand to help search for the missing beetle species.
Michael Harvey walking through Sydney Park with his black and white dog

Michael fit his Christmas beetle search around his dog Ralph's daily walks.

For Michael Harvey (BArch '99), University of Sydney architecture graduate and urban designer for the City of Sydney, Christmas beetles have always been a memorable part of the summer months. But like many Australians he had begun to notice the absence of the glittering green and gold insects as Christmas approached.  Then he learned about the citizen science project through SAM Extra, the University's alumni newsletter.

"Growing up in Sydney, Christmas beetles were a really memorable part of summertime and holidays,” he recalls. “That’s why I was keen to volunteer for this project when I heard their numbers were in decline.”

The Christmas Beetle Count was run by Invertebrates Australia and entomologist Associate Professor Tanya Latty from the School of Life and Environmental Science at the University of Sydney over the latter half of 2022. Volunteers, dubbed ‘citizen scientists’, were asked to take pictures of any Christmas beetles they encountered and upload them by using an app on their phone. The goal was to understand the current beetle distribution, understand if the beetle populations were in decline, and identify and combat potential causes to secure the beetles’ future.

Michael eagerly put up his hand to start snapping pictures of the beetles he found on his daily walks through Sydney Park with his dog Ralph.  The iconic Australian beetles tended to gather by the bright lights that illuminated the park at night. In the end, Michael submitted five images of the insects he found with Ralph.

Associate Professor Tanya Latty with a bug net in amongst large green leaves

Entomologist, Associate Professor Tanya Latty, collaborated on the Christmas Beetle Project with Invertebrates Australia.

The project received more than 6500 submissions from volunteers like Michael and was successful in identifying 35 species of Christmas beetles, including several which had not been spotted in decades. Associate Professor Latty, says that the support from volunteers like Michael was a crucial part of confirming the status of the 35 Christmas beetle species.

“We absolutely could not do this project without volunteers,” she says. "Australia is a huge, huge country. So, without having eyes everywhere, we can't really identify the problem areas.

“We desperately need people in communities everywhere in Australia, even places where perhaps they haven't seen Christmas beetles, to keep an eye out for them.”

She hopes that more volunteers will get involved in projects like this, to help people understand the key role that insects play in our world and challenge their negative preconceptions of the crawling critters around us.

“The vast majority of insects cannot hurt you. I think that fear is something that tends to get put into us very young and it's hard to shift,” Associate Professor Latty says. “But they do all the jobs, they’re predators, waste managers and soil regenerators. And if we ignore them because we're scared of them, we're going to lose something fundamentally important to our ecosystems.

“And Christmas beetles... they’re beautiful! They're cute, they're harmless, they're big. What's not to love?”

Michael Harvey crouching next to a tree with his black and white dog.

By snapping pictures of Christmas beetles Michael is helping to secure their future.

For his part, Michael spent time talking to his son about Christmas beetles and his memories of their large populations, drawing on his own interest in environmental science and conservation.

"Volunteering is an easy and fun way to make a positive impact in the world. You give back to your community, learn new skills and connect with like-minded individuals,” he says.

"I just hope that my contribution to the Christmas Beetle Count will make a positive impact on their survival.”

Successes so far

There were 6592 total Christmas beetle sightings collected by volunteers in the 2022/ 2023 season. 35 Christmas beetle species were observed.

Christmas beetle specimen

Four 'missing' beetle species were formally sighted:

Anoplognathus multiseriatus - last reported in 1970s

Anoplognathus rhinastus - last reported in 1999

Anoplognathus nebulosus - laste reported in 1999

Anoplognathus vietor - previously reported from a single male speciman in 1986

There is only one preserved specimen of anoplognathus vietor, so it is especially exciting to have recorded a live beetle.

Want to get involved in projects like the Christmas beetle search? Visit our Volunteer with us page.

Think you’ve spotted a beetle and want to help? Visit Invertebrates Australia to find out more about the Christmas Beetle Project.