Giant beetles

Posted: Wednesday 6 June 2012
by Richard Jones

Sitting in the kitchen, chatting to teenage daughter before bed, she suddenly interrupted the conversation with: “That was a stag beetle, wasn’t it?”

Stag beetle on hand

There must have been something about the nightfall that set them going. Sitting in the kitchen, chatting to teenage daughter before bed, she suddenly interrupted the conversation with: “That was a stag beetle, wasn’t it?”
I thought I saw a dark movement in the sky just above the apple tree, but by the time we had rushed into the garden all was quiet. It was the perfect weather though, still and sultry. I get that prickle on my neck when the air is warm and moist.
Back indoors, not two minutes later, I notice the cat is paying particular attention, with his paw, to a normally rather uninteresting part of the climbing frame. Sure enough, here is Mr Stag Beetle, the first of the year.
This is just the start. The next evening there is another (or is it the same one) scrambling over the old wooden sleeper under the guinea-pig hutch. It’s right in the cat thoroughfare, where they leap the fence, so I take it up the garden to a more secluded spot. And as I do so, there is rustling all around the garden, and the familiar rattle of leathery wings taking to the air. Almost simultaneously, two beetles take flight, one flying south, the other north.
This, however, is not the only giant beetle I have seen in the last few days. Last week I came across the great silver diving beetle, Hydrophilus piceus, near Sandwich, in Kent. It’s as big as a stag beetle, but lacking the almighty jaws. Admittedly, it’s unlikely to turn up in gardens, unless you have a grid of dykes and grazing meadows outside the kitchen door.

Silver diving beetle on hand

I used to see them in the watery marshes a short walk from my parents’ house down at Newhaven — many years ago now. They were always impressive beasts, but commonplace, I thought. Now things have changed.
It is the stag beetles I now see regularly, and much as I love finding them and holding them in my shrinking palm, they have become the regular find. Hydrophilus is very scarce, and declining too, because of habitat destruction and disturbance; it was the cause of startled astonishment and childish glee this time.
Despite its huge size (heavier probably than a stag beetle methinks), it too flies well. It makes a similar low-pitched leathery rattle as dusk falls, and its form can often only be guessed at, as it glides off over the grazing lands. Its landing, though, is quite different from the stag’s. Just like a doodlebug V1 bomb, its engine suddenly shuts off. It must fold its wings tight under its wing cases in mid-air. There is a moment, a half-second maybe, of silence. Then the tell-tale ‘plop’ as it tumbles into the water.

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Shuv 16/06/2012 at 20:33

I think the Stag Beetles are amazing but a little scary when they suddenly fly up as you walk by them! We have lots of them in our Sussex village and we look out for them at this time every year :)

LORELEI 16/06/2012 at 20:48

I have never seen one in my garden unfortunatly.