Snacking out of season

One objective of my research project „CH4ScarabDetect“ is to quantify directly in the field methane (CH4) emissions of cockchafer larvae at cockchafer infested sites. In May, I visited the Kaiserstuhl – a region in southwest Germany famous for its wine production. To the dismay of the wine-growers, cockchafer larvae like to feed on vine, but I didn’t plan to visit any vineyards that day.

When I started my journey in the morning, I thought I would spend my day amongst walnut trees in a tree nursery in a small town called Sasbach-Leiselheim. There is a family-owned tree nursery and the family Schott already has to deal with the common cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha) as a pest insect for over 30 years. The common cockchafer is one of the main pest insects at the Kaiserstuhl.

Leiselheim am Kaiserstuhl


To my surprise, Mr. Schott senior drove me to  a small Christmas tree plantation near Burkheim which belongs to another landowner. Christmas trees were never on my list of vegetation types I wanted to visit during my research project, but if the cockchafers like them, I like them as well.


Christmas trees which have been damaged by cockchafers.

For my soil excavations at cockchafer infested sites, I start with marking 50 cm x 50 cm large measurement plots with the help of a wooden frame. Then, I dig up the soil in these plots to a depth of about 25 – 30 cm. For each cockchafer larva that I find during digging I write down at which depth I found it and I measure its weight. At the Christmas tree plantation, I found up to 25 larvae per m² at different stages of larval development (weights ranging between 0.6 and 2.6 g). A fully-grown adult beetle was also among my findings.


Excavated measurement plot (50 cm x 50 cm, 25 cm deep).


A larva of the Common Cockchafer right below the soil surface.

To determine the CH4 emissions of the excavated larvae, each individual is placed inside a large glass test tube which is then sealed air-tight for an hour. We refer to this method as incubation and the time the test tube is closed as incubation time. During the incubation time, all CH4 which is emitted by the larva is collected in the test tube. After an hour, a small air sample (25 ml) is extracted from the test tube with a syringe. The air sample will be stored in a small glass vial and latter analysed with a gas chromatograph to determine its CH4 concentration. I don’t know yet how much CH4 the larvae emitted at the Christmas tree plantation on that day because the data of the gas chromatograph still has to be analyzed. However from other sites, I know that the CH4 concentration inside the glass test tubes can increase to more than 50 ppm within an hour which is far above the atmospheric concentration of CH4 in the air surrounding us, which is about 1.8 ppm.


Cockchafer larva in a glass test tube for a methane measurement.

One thought on “Snacking out of season

  1. Pingback: Backpacking for field work | Understanding the Invisible

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