Stag beetles

by Richard Jones

Just over a week ago I was outside one evening singing 'Happy Birthday' to my mum down the phone. Half way through I was interrupted by a huge male stag beetle flying low over the garden...

Stag beetleJust over a week ago I was outside one evening singing 'Happy Birthday' to my mum down the phone. Half way through I was interrupted by a huge male stag beetle flying low over the garden with a loud clockwork buzz. Fantastic.

It's hard to believe these impressive beasts can get airborne, until you realize that despite their huge size they only weigh about 5 grams. Compare that to a blue tit, with similar body size which weighs at least 10 grams.

A few days later there are two more. I'm not sure whether they are males or females, they are too far away, two or three gardens down the road, but nevertheless there is no mistaking them. They all appear at the same time, between 9.00 and 9.30 in the evening, just as the sun is going, but before it is gone. This is the usual time I see stag beetles flying, and how lucky I feel to use that word 'usual'. For me, stag beetles are a regular event, every year. But I wonder for how much longer.

Here in south-east London, stag beetles are garden insects. They also occur in Dulwich Woods, Beckenham Place Park, and a few other woodland places, but the ones flying past my back door are breeding in long-lost and forgotten subterranean root systems, buried logs and stumps no longer visible on the surface. But every year gardens are vanishing. Not only do they disappear under front drives, but many of the original 'backland' plots, extra large gardens and paddocks harking back to an era of horse-drawn carts and local orchards, are being developed under blocks of flats and tight mews or townhouse rows.

My one grain of hope lies in the beetle's wide palate. It is not just an oak, elm or beech feeder; it will take sycamore, birch, poplar and willow too. As I look out from the upstairs windows there are plenty of these trees still about. Maybe in 50 years time when my children are singing 'Happy Birthday' to me, the song will still be interrupted by the same loud buzzing.

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Gardeners' World Web User 04/06/2009 at 13:24

I LOVE LOVE LOVE stag beetles! Do they come in two sizes? I sometimes see small ones -- are they the younger generation?

Gardeners' World Web User 04/06/2009 at 17:02

every year my sister has loads of the giant buggers in her garden,not so good for the dogs though as they hang onto the fur on the dogs,and when the dogs come running into the house,the beetles drop off,and crawl on the floor,my sister really really hates them.where do they all come from...she has rung the local council to a bug man to get rid of them,but they dont do that.years ago[many years ago] when i was at school if you ever saw a stag beetle you had to inform the council...on average my sister has about 10/15 in here garden.they are only there for a few day,we dont know where they sister lives in a very very old house,is that the reason why there is so many?

Gardeners' World Web User 04/06/2009 at 21:35

Found a beautiful but dead male stag beetle on our drive this morning - so sad. These gorgeous creatures are protected species I think and should not be considered a pest as they have a hard time finding suitable undisturbed breeding places.

Gardeners' World Web User 05/06/2009 at 07:04

Reply to Frieda I think you may be labouring under a misapprehension. Just as young butterflies are caterpillars, young stag beetles are grubs (or maggots or larvae depending on our vernacular choice). They do vary in size tremendously. The antlered 'stag' males are usually much bigger than the females. Then there is the lesser stag beetle, a different species, Dorcus parallelipipedus. Have a look at an earlier blog where there is a picture of female stag and lesser.

Gardeners' World Web User 05/06/2009 at 07:11

Reply to Sarahs Pond Life What luck to have 10 to 15 stag beetles in the garden each year. What a shame they are unwelcome. They are completely harmless unless you deliberately (and rather stupidly) thrust your finger into the male's jaws. In which case it will bite. In the spirit of scientific investigation I did just this a few years ago and ended up with blood all over my field note book. They are probably breeding in subterranean root systems and old stumps long since forgotten, buried in the soil and with no sign on the surface. The adults only live a few days or weeks. During this time they must find mates and the females must find a suitable place to lay eggs. They fall victim to birds, foxes, dogs, cats, cars and, sadly, pedestrians, treading them underfoot because they do not appreciate what gentle giant beasts they are.

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