All harmless hiss and horn: it’s the Rhinoceros Beetle
At first glance Rhinoceros or Rhino Beetles might seem a little antisocial, but for humans the up-sized backyard buddies are not only harmless but truly fascinating. These quirky shiny-black beetles grow to be around 6 or 7 cm in length so you will definitely see them when they fly about. In fact, they are Australia’s largest beetle.
Rhino Beetles only live in warm coastal tropical or subtropical climates, so in Australia they are mostly found Queensland, the Northern Territory and northern New South Wales. If you go for a walk on a warm night in the tropics, you may even hear a Rhino Beetle’s distinctive hissing sound. Don’t be put off though, they are all bluff when it comes to people.
Another thing that often puts people off when it comes to Rhino Beetles is their appearance, but don’t judge a rhino on its looks either. Even though they have big forked horns and tight gripping claws, they aren’t strong enough or mean enough to hurt a human
You can help look after Rhino Beetles in your Backyard
Know your rhinos! If you see a big black beetle in your garden but it doesn’t have the characteristic horn, you may still have found a Rhino Beetle. Only the males have horns; they use them to fight with other males to win the attention of their favourite females. Especially during summer months, female Rhino Beetles drive male Rhino Beetles love-crazy by giving off special hormones. Nothing says ‘good times’ to a Rhino Beetle than the onset of summer.
It’s not just the grown up beetles that are big, Rhino Beetle babies are huge too. You will recognise them if you see one; they are c-shaped, white grubs with fine reddish hairs and a brown head. At full size, they can be up to 7 cm long — which is about the same length as the shorter edge of an Australian $20 note — and really plump. Rhino Beetle babies love munching on decaying organic matter, so having a healthy compost bin in your backyard is a great way to attract Rhino Beetle mums looking for somewhere to lay their eggs.
Rhino Beetles also get a bit excited when they see bright lights at night. You might find them collecting under your veranda lights or flying into you windows, so just turn off the lights or pull down the blinds if you don’t want a rhino party at your place.
Be a Backyard Buddy
Rhino Beetles get along so well with humans that they are even kept as pets in some parts of the world. But they’re not always as kind to each other as they are to us. In summer, you might see big groups of males getting together to fight. They hiss and push each other off trees with their horns to impress any nearby females.
Grown up Rhino Beetles love Poinciana trees, so if you have one at or near your house you could see a huge number of Rhino Beetles getting together for a feast. It might look like they are eating quite a lot of the leaves if there is only one tasty tree in the neighbourhood for them to meet at, but they rarely do any lasting damage to a tree.
Some of the Rhino Beetle’s scarab relatives, like the cane beetle, have a bad reputation for damaging the roots of sugar cane crops, but Rhino Beetles and their babies don’t eat any part of sugar cane at all. If you live in a cane growing area, you certainly don’t need to worry about these big buddies hanging around.
Rhino Beetles love:
- Organic mulch.
- Old fruit and veggies.
- Fresh young tree shoots, especially Poinciana after summer rains.
But they don't like:
- Insecticides or pesticides.
- Cold or very dry climates.
- Love rivals, the source of many bitter tree-top battles.
Be a Buddy to Rhino Beetles
- Plant a few Poinciana trees to bring rhino bugs into the area, and make sure youkeep your existing Poincianas healthy too..
- Keep composting. Why waste all of your fruit and veggie scraps when they provide the perfect environment for nursing Rhino Beetle babies?
- Breed your own Rhino BeetlesLearn more about caring for Rhino Beetles as pets and how can raise your own Rhino Beetles..
- Picking up a Rhino Beetle when you have insect repellent on your skin. Rhinos might look tough, but the chemicals in insect repellents that humans put on our skin are definitely not rhino-friendly. Feel free to pick up a rhino buddy, just be gentle and wash your hands thoroughly first.
- Using pesticides in your garden. This won’t just stop any new rhinos from coming to check out your garden, it will make any who have already moved in feel very unwelcome.
- Being afraid. Even though they will hiss or look like they might pinch you with their horns and claws, Rhino Beetles can’t hurt humans. Their claws and horns just aren’t strong enough. If you pick up a beetle and it gets a little defensive and hissy, just put it down gently and it will be happy again.
Don't be surprised if Rhino Beetles:
- Start hissing. They make quite a loud sound by rubbing their wings against their abdomen when they get disturbed but it’s just a bit of beetle bravado; it’s nothing for you to be worried about unless you’re a Rhino Beetle too. The hiss is also a male beetle’s battle cry.
- Are hard to get off your clothes. If a Rhino Beetle lands on you, you might find it’s a bit hard to make it let go. The claws on the end of their legs are designed to help them hold on tight to leaves they are eating, but they seem to work just as well with clothes. If you try to pry them off, the beetle is likely to just hang on even tighter. The trick is to pat the beetle gently down its back and it will most likely just start walking off of its own accord.
A few more Rhino Beetle facts
Rhino beetle profile:
- Rhino Beetles are said to be the strongest animals on the planet. They are able to lift up to 850 times there own body weight. That’s a bit like a human lifting up four double-decker busses filled with passengers.
- Rhino Beetle grubs are great at helping to aerate your lawn.
- Rhino Beetles are relatives of Christmas Beetles and Dung Beetles.
- Rhino Beetle horns might look awkward but they are actually quite light. They are made of chitin just like the rest of the beetles’ exoskeleton, and are hollow and dry with no blood or muscle in them at all.
- Click to see a hissing Rhino beetle.