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Creature Features


Beetle fighting!

A close up of a horned Siamese Rhinoceros Beetle.

By Ross Lee Tabak
This week’s creature features gives us a different kind of creature event, the very popular beetle fighting! This year I was determined to fight a beetle. Starting in September you’ll see them hanging on sticks of sugar cane around town, and lucky folks might even have a beetle stadium in their neighborhood. I figured there couldn’t be too much to making bugs fight each other, so I made a trip to the beetle market to pick my champion. I already knew his name would be Ricky Ricardo.
Siamese rhinoceros beetles (Xylotrupes gideon, or just gwaang in Northern Thai) spend about eighty percent of their lives as big grubs underground, then two short months after the rainy season trying desperately to get laid. They use their big horns to throw each other off tree branches while vying for the hearts of ladybeetles, and the males with the biggest usually win. Long ago someone figured out that they could put a female in a hollowed out log and make the males fight and betting, of course, was not far behind.

A beetle fight ends when one of the beetles walks away.

My first inkling that this was not going to be easy came when I noticed the prices went from 30 to 250 baht for nearly identical bugs. Each beetle is priced based on its horn length, color and a host of other esoteric features only a gwaang expert can determine, which meant I had little chance of choosing a serious contender. It turns out size isn’t all that matters, either. You have to train your beetle by poking him with a teak stick until he gets angry and when the day of the match comes, you have to be there to rile him up.
I stared at the little black monsters until I felt a connection with one and took him home.

The fighting beetle market, prices range from 30-250 baht.

Matches take place all over the north, usually outside of a whiskey stall or small shop. Surprisingly, the battles are bloodless (do beetles have blood?) and end only when one contestant walks away. They’ll pick each other up and hurl opponents off the log, but most of the beetles die a natural death sometime around Loy Krathong.
As for Ricky Ricardo, I couldn’t bring myself to let him into the ring. We’d become close, and I thought the least I could do was offer his freedom while he still had time to find a girlfriend, so I untied him from his sugarcane perch and left it outside. Sure enough, come daylight, the ladies had flocked to him.

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Beetle fighting!