The battle of the Stag beetle

Lucanus cervus, famous for its impressive jaws is a globally threatened species and numbers in Britain are in decline.

credit: Simon A. Eugster

The male species of UK’s largest beetle has massive antler-like jaws, though purely ornamental with reddish-brown bodies. The females look similar to the lesser stag beetles, but are larger, with smaller heads and brown wing cases instead of black. They can be found in South East England in (oak) woodlands, but also in gardens, hedgerows and parks. The larvae require old trees and rotting wood for habitat and sustenance, and can take up to six years to develop before pupating into adults. Adult beetles have a short lifespan, they emerge in May to mate and subsequently die in August once they have laid their eggs in decaying wood. Most often spotted when the males fly to find their mates in the summer.

An article in this month’s Gardens Illustrated, provides an insight into the most spectacular of Britain’s insects and Fran Sconce of the Royal Entomological Society explains why they are endangered and what can be done to encourage their presence in gardens across the country.

Stag beetles are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and are classified as nationally scarce and in decline across Europe. They play an important role in the biodiversity of garden wildlife, as the larvae not only aid in decomposition and soil health, but they also provide a source of food for small mammals, reptiles and birds.

Sadly not an unfamiliar story, but it’s due to modern tree management, overly-tidied gardens and decreasing wildlife habitats that the numbers of stag beetle are in decline. Climate change and the associated periods of extended rain or high temperatures are also negatively impacting their numbers. Log piles – especially oak, tree stumps, piles of branches and areas of non-intervention in gardens and parks will help the cause.

The European Stag Beetle Monitoring Network

There is a network of Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s), universities, and individuals from 14 countries who are working together to monitor Stag Beetles and promote their conservation. All can register and conduct a stag beetle monitoring survey to provide invaluable information as to population sizes and whether their numbers are going up or down.