Stag beetles

Posted: Wednesday 3 July 2013
by Richard Jones

I know I go on about it, but this, without doubt, is the wildest wildlife spectacle we get in Sarf Landan.

Stag beetles

I know I go on about it, but this, without doubt, is the wildest wildlife spectacle we get in Sarf Landan. Every year, around the end of May and beginning of June, stag beetles take to the air at dusk. Sounding like model aeroplanes, they hover majestically (though some say menacingly) over the gardens of Dulwich, Sydenham, Forest Hill and Honor Oak, even down to more foreign-sounding boroughs like Beckenham, Bromley, Richmond and Streatham. They are wonderful.

But at the same time, they polarise an often unspoken opinion about garden wildlife. A lot of people are rather unhappy about wildlife in the garden. Despite endless polls suggesting that “seeing wildlife” is one of the key reasons people cite as part of their enjoyment of their gardens, there is still an unease about the 'wild' things out there.

It could be foxes, defaecating on the lawn or frightening small children; it could be creepy-crawlies, which might or might not be making holes in precious leaves; it might be magpies loitering with malicious intent.

Stag beetles, too, it seems, are not universally welcomed by gardeners. Just to see whether there had been any early reports of stag beetles (mine did not appear until 17 June, at least 2 weeks later than previous years), I checked a local community website. Sure enough, someone had found one a week earlier — perhaps the recent cool weather had not interfered too much with their body clocks after all.

But one of the threads in that online conversation caught me. Rather than kicking up a joyous celebratory hullabaloo at finding such a impressive and imperial creature, someone was asking what they should do with the stag beetles they were finding. How should they catch them? And where was a suitable nature reserve into which they could release them? For them, the garden was obviously not the right place for such an imposing insect.

If they had seen butterflies or bumblebees in the garden, they would never have made any such suggestion at translocation to a “more suitable site”. What was it about stag beetles that had triggered such an idea? Leaving aside worries about the ferociously antlered beetle’s imagined danger, I take this as another example of the unease with which an increasingly urban society views wild nature.

I can only imagine it was because this South London resident had never seen a stag beetle before. Staggered by its rare beauty, and concerned for its future well-being, perhaps the garden owner really believed that their modest plot could not truly be home to such an august animal. With a mainly secretive subterranean dead-wood-feeding maggot life (3–7 years quoted in the literature), adult stag beetles are rather fleeting, and probably only survive a few days (or maybe weeks) above ground. The beetles’ presence in a garden is easily overlooked until the warm midsummer dusks, when they fly looking for mates and suitable egg-laying sites.

Luckily, someone else had already suggested that the beetles be just left well alone; that the stag beetle is a natural and relatively common part of South London garden life, albeit only visible for a few weeks a year. London Wildlife Trust and other organisations are again championing a stag beetle survey. Each little bit of publicity helps spread the message that these beetles are: natural, harmless, fascinating, handsome, and well worthy of study — in the garden, as well as in the nature reserve.

These three beetles, two males and a female, were flying around independently in my garden. I caught them for show and tell at a local school Natural History Club the next day, and posed them on the sleepers around my pond, before releasing them back into various parts of the garden.

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oldchippy 04/07/2013 at 11:14

I saw my first Stag beetle for many years last month but I haven't seen any Bats yet,Our local park has lots of fallen trees and many standing dead trees with holes for nest and insects,with bracket fungus growing on then.

Alan4711 04/07/2013 at 11:39

Hi o,c, each night at around ten we get about 4 bats come into our small garden they do a red arrows show for us ,even coming right up close ,it looks like they are catching flying insects,they are about the size of a mouse and can suddenly from great speed almost stop to catch something just amazing to watch then they are off
iv no idea where they live but we are very near to a cemetery could be there anyway
avagooden Alan

kiwimedic 05/07/2013 at 11:12

I am from NZ and have yet to see any. I would LOVE to have them in our garden and have set up all sorts of weedy/log areas in the hope of attracting them.

My boys would be thrilled to see a beetle like that in our garden and I would feel proud that my garden had what they wanted they they would have come there.
Luckily I am not the manicured lawn, everything looking like a show garden - most insects probably dont appreciate that much!

Penny House 10/07/2013 at 09:13

How interesting that you're focusing on London. My family have recently moved to Sunbury and on two separate visits I have spotted a stag beetle, crawling cross the pavement. The first time I have seen one for decades. My family live opposite a small piece of neglected woodland, prime stag beetle country! I picked them up and carefully moved them across the road to the woodland so they weren't stepped on. I hope that was OK.

jean6 14/07/2013 at 12:27

my neighbour came for coffee today & mentioned that last night 14th july whilst in a friends garden they were bomb barded by what she calls bombers...ofcourse they were stag beetles..this is in chesterton cambridge...