About noble chafer beetles
Small isolated populations
The striking noble chafer beetle lives a reclusive life in traditional orchards. But, as agricultural intensification and neglect reduce its habitat, this handsome beetle is becoming increasingly rare.
You can also download our noble chafer fact sheet
The noble chafer is a very striking beetle with its metallic green body, speckled with white. The adult is approximately 20mm long and the whole body displays a brilliant iridescence which can flash copper, gold and even violet when the light strikes it. The noble chafer resembles a much more common species called the rose chafer (Cetonia aurata). The principal difference between them is the small triangular area (the scutellum) between the wing cases forms an equilateral triangle on the noble chafer but is elongated on the rose chafer. The rose chafer is also more globular looking and lacks the ‘waist’ of the noble chafer.
This rare beetle is associated with traditional orchards where it is dependent on old, decaying wood within live trees especially cherry, plum and apple. They exhibit a preference for orchards that contain mature fruit trees between 50 and 80 years old. These sites are vulnerable to removal or clearance, particularly if the trees are reaching the end of their productive life. In the New Forest they are thought to breed within old oak and beech trees – they have only been seen so far as adults visiting flowers on road verges.
The larvae feed on decaying wood debris in hollowed trunks and boughs. They produce characteristic droppings, called frass, which may become abundant and accumulate like fine gravel in hollow branches or trunks. The adult beetle feeds on pollen and nectar from a range of umbellifers (plants with clusters of tiny flowers) on sunny days from June to August.
Adult noble chafers emerge in early summer and live for about 4-6 weeks. The peak flight season is June and July. In the morning, after emerging from the tree, beetles will bask for a short while to warm up their flight muscles, then fly to feed on nearby flowers. Later on in the day they may be found up in the canopy some distance from their larval habitat.
Adult females lay up to 35 eggs beneath the bark or in the centre of the trunk of old, decaying fruit trees. The larvae hatch about two weeks later. They are white, c-shaped and grow to about 30mm long. They remain feeding within the tree for two to three years, until they pupate into adult beetles.
Adult noble chafers emerge in early summer and live for about 4-6 weeks. The peak flight season is from late-June through July and August. The adult beetles can sometimes be found visiting flowers such as hogweed, meadow sweet and elder. It is thought that some beetles never leave their host tree.
The noble chafer is widely distributed throughout Europe. In England populations are centred around the fruit growing counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, with outlying populations in the New Forest and South Oxfordshire.
Recently, noble chafers have been discovered in two adjacent orchards in Kent and two unconnected orchards in Buckinghamshire. Historically this beetle was also known to live in Essex, Northamptonshire, Devon and Cumbria.
As orchards were modernised, the old traditionally managed ones became progressively less economic
and were grubbed out and not replaced. Noble chafers are just one species which has been affected by this dramatic change to our landscape.
Status and conservation
In Britain, the species has been rare for the past century. The noble chafer is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ here, which means that it is facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. It is a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species with organisations such as ourselves taking special action to save them.
How you can help
If you see a noble chafer or their droppings (frass) or larvae we would love to know where you were. Photos of adults or larvae can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Small samples of frass (droppings) can be posted in to us. Please accompany sightings with a six-figure OS grid reference (eg SO364101) or nearest postcode and clear description of the site in order for us to find the location.
We are especially interested in noble chafers in the New Forest area
How to look for noble chafers
Noble chafers are very rarely seen but you can search for their droppings. Where old fruit trees in an orchard exhibit decay features, you can survey for noble chafer signs:
- With your arm, a long handled spoon or similar implement, reach into any accessible hollows.
- Collect a handful of the wood mould that is inside. This will be fine, woody material produced by fungal activity during the decay process.
- Inspect the wood mould for noble chafer frass. It may be useful to use a white sheet or piece of paper for this as when shaken the pellets usually come to the surface. Noble chafer frass is approximately 3mm long and lozenge-shaped .
- If noble chafer frass is discovered please take a small sample and send it to the PTES office, with address and grid reference for confirmation and recording.
- If noble chafer larvae or adults are discovered please leave them where they are but take a photograph if possible. Return the wood mould to the hollow.
- Always be aware that other species inhabit tree hollows so please explore with care and keep disturbance to a minimum.
You can also help by locating their precious homes by taking part in our Traditional Orchard Survey.
Noble chafer-friendly orchard management
If you are lucky enough to find evidence of the noble chafer in your orchard, follow these steps to ensure the beetles continue to thrive:
- Take care when pruning and leave thick branches alone as these may contain noble chafer larvae.
- Encroaching scrub should be controlled around trees that are known, or suspected, to have noble chafer within them as increased shading may cool the trunk which in turn may affect the development of the larvae.
- Fallen trees should be left undisturbed as they may contain developing noble chafer larvae. Where they need to be moved for access, move them to the side of the orchard where they can continue to support deadwood invertebrates and fungi.
- Aim for an organic approach to the management of your orchard. Pesticides may poison noble chafer and fertilisers may compromise tree health through impacts on fungal mycorrhizae which have many benefits to trees.
- Keeping your orchard well-stocked with trees will maintain a diverse age structure and ensure the continued presence of wood-decay habitats and future habitat for the noble chafer.
- An active management programme is beneficial to orchard wildlife in maintaining the open structure which favours noble chafer and other key species.
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