The Fighting Beetle
The hard winged rhinoceros beetle of the Scarabaeidae family is commonly known as the fighting beetle. The male of the species is dark brown or black. Their favourite diet is green coconuts, bananas, sugar cane and the indigo plant. The beetle has a life span of one year and spends the period between the rainy season and the cold season as a hard winged beetle. After that it dies. The development stage is spent as a ground caterpillar in the earth or in rotting wood. After several months in this stage it turns into a beetle. The species is propagated between the months of August and September. During this period, the beetle can be seen most everywhere, particularly in the northern parts of the country where the traditional fights between the beetles are held.
There are many different types of rhinoceros beetle such as the particularly large variety which is known as the kwang sang. An outstanding feature of this beetle is its 5 horns. This beetle measures 2-3 inches and lives on a diet of bamboo shoots. Because it is slow and clumsy, it is generally not used as a fighting beetle.
The preferred species for fighting is the Xylotrupes gideon, which is also known by a variety of other names dependent on its features. The kwang ki, for example, is a small male beetle with stumped front horns. The lower horns are longer than the upper horns. Another variety bred for fighting is the kwang song which is a large male beetle with long, sharp, pointed horns on both sides. There is also another variety, the hornless female kwang i lum, which is used to spur the males into fighting over her.
Under natural conditions, these beetles fight at night as that is the time when mating takes place and the mood of the beetles is aroused. However, for gambling purposes, the fights are held during the day. Night bouts generally take a long time and it is difficult to determine which is the winner and which the loser. Beetle fighting, which is popular among men and women of all ages, requires a perch, a wooden whirl, and a female beetle.
The perch serves as the arena where the battle takes place. If the match is arranged by children, a piece of sugar cane is used as the perch as it also serves as the beetle’s food. Adults, however, use a length of soft wood from the jute plant. The beetles can easily cling to this piece of wood because of their sharp curved cat-like claws. The piece of wood is carved with a 2 inch square hole where the kwang i lum female beetle is placed. On the reverse side is another hole for the rear of the female to protrude. The female is used as a lure to incite the males into battle over her.
Another important tool used in the fighting is the wooden whirl. Sometimes made from horn, bone, ivory or plastic instead of wood, it is about the same size as a pencil and pointed at both ends. In the middle of the whirl is a deep groove made into an axle about 1 cm. in size. A small metal plate is folded and fitted to the groove to produce a loud whirring sound when the whirl is spun. The sound is similar to the sound made by insects in the dark of night. This wooden whirl is considered a handicraft because of the skill required in making and using it.
The beetles’ behaviour changes depending on how the whirl is spun. A quick, sharp, shrill sound tells the beetle to go out fighting, while a slow sound warns the beetle to be cautious. If the whirl is knocked on the perch, the beetle is warned to withdraw.
The same rules are used when fighting for pleasure or when gambling. A beetle that tries to flee is considered the loser. If a beetle shows it is unwilling to engage in a fight, the owner can remove it from the perch and try to coax it by letting it fly around for a moment, by spraying it with water, or by letting it enjoy the scent of the female for a while. While using the wooden whirl, it is not allowed to come into contact with the beetle or the participant will be disqualified.
In former times, beetles used in fighting were gathered in the early hours of the morning. People would go out and shake the trees and if there were any beetles there, they would fall out. The beetles could be recognised by their sound.
Another method was to tie a kwang ki or kwang i lum to a piece of sugarcane and place or tie it in an area where it was believed there were beetles. When the kwang song flew by, it would attack the kwang ki or mate with the kwang i lum making it easy to catch.
These days, they can easily be bought because people catch them to sell during the fighting season. Whirls and perches are also made and sold in the market place, particularly on Charoenrajd Road in the vicinity of Nawarat Bridge.
The tradition of fighting beetles has been practised for a long time. The sport is enjoyed not only by the common people, but also by nobility. Chao Dara Rasami, a consort of King Rama V, was a keen spectator of this sport and had a fighting arena constructed in the grounds of her palace. She invited people to stage bouts in this arena for her pleasure.
Most men and boys of the northern region are familiar with the sport of beetle fighting and know how to conduct matches. The season lasts for only 1-2 months each year, because once the cold season starts beetles begin to die off. At that time, followers of the sport release their beetles so, that they can mate and produce new beetles in time for them to grow up and take part in the next fighting season.