City Informer: What’s With All the Anti-Beetle Signs?

The Westside is covered with signs warning beetles to stay out... but where did they come from?

Lock your doors and hide your daughters: Japanese beetles are on the loose!

Japanese beetles (gang name: Popillia japonica) were first detected in False Creek back in 2017. While Vancouver proudly welcomes immigrants from the world over, this is apparently where the city draws the line. Maybe if Japanese beetles contributed to the economy instead of gorging on all our fave crops it would be a different story, but they’re what scientists call the “bad boys of the entomology world,” skeletonizing the leaves of important agricultural species and then not even calling them in the morning.

Grapes, corn, berries, apples: these rascals are insatiable… but damn, do they look good as they’re ruining our farming economy. Practically as wide as they are long—no wonder these dudes exhibit such raw, short-king energy—they’re the same metallic green as the skort I wore to my grade seven graduation, with wings the colour of that skort after I left my bronze glitter gel pen in the pocket and sent it through the wash. Fuzzy white tufts of hair line their abdomens, but if you get close enough to see that it’s probably too late: they’ve already decimated your peach orchard. Get yourself to brunch with your best gal pals to talk over what went wrong.

cartoon beetle depicted as an old timey villan on a wanted poster

No one knows where they came from (though if pressed I would wager: Japan?) but to combat the spread of this devastating pest, the Invasive Species Council of B.C. has posted signs all around the west side explaining that they aren’t welcome here. One major problem with this method, of course, is that Japanese beetles can’t read. (Harsh but true!) But anyone who can read and also has spotted a beetle is urged to call the authorities. See something, say something! A dedicated hotline connects inform­ants to the CFIA Japanese Beetle Response Centre, which is ready and waiting for whistleblowers at all (business) hours. When the Beetlebusters (CFIA, please call me about branding opportunities!) get a call about suspicious beetle-tivity, they spring into action by leaving a pheromone trap where the bug was last seen. In my imagination, the Beetlebusters then do a stakeout in a van across the street to see if their ingenious honeypot has worked, but please see my Beetlebusters fan Tumblr account for more on that.

What’s always striking to me about these giant signs is that they exist when there are so many other things Vancouverites should be on alert about that do not get their own dedicated government publicity budget. Where are the posters warning us about dangerous members of society like drug kingpins (sorry, or queenpins, it’s 2023), or people who make calls on speakerphone on the bus? There’s only so much real estate on a telephone pole, I suppose, so the messages that do get posted have to be really important—a.k.a., in service of protecting the economy. If these beetles get around, they’re going to cause millions if not billions of dollars in damage, whereas if I drink the water from Lost Lagoon because I haven’t seen a sign telling me not to, no one will be impacted except the other people who live in my one-bathroom apartment.

Beetles mostly get spread around by landscapers, who inadvertently transfer them from district to district in bags of yard waste. The signs are helping to remind city crews to be mindful with soil and plants, I guess in the same way that my workplace often has similar notes and reminders for us as team members (e.g.: “Your mom doesn’t work here! Please clean up after yourself after using the Corporate Sobbing Chamber!!!”). It’s hard to tell if the call for vigilance is paying off. Sure, 8,276 beetles were caught in 2018, and in 2020 there were just 214, but does that mean numbers are going down, or that the beetles are just getting smarter? Perhaps they’ve learned how to read after all and now they’re laying low—the wisest thing to do, really, when cancel culture comes for you.