Thursday, 11 September 2008

Big Black Beautiful Beetles

For some reason, there are some really big beetles in France. Many of the species also occur in Britain, but the French specimens are significantly bigger than their British brothers, and some species are particularly large, even for France, in the secret, mysterious and largely undisturbed patches of woodland in the Brenne. But you don't have to have privileged access to the nature reserves to see impressive local beetle species -- just step outside your door in Preuilly and check out the walls, bare ground and tree trunks around you.

Here is a selection of what you might see -- I bet you never realised beetles could come in so many different shapes:

Rhinoceros Beetle (Scarabée rhinocéros) Oryctes nasicornis - female. Well, alright, she's not quite black, but she is big -- about 35mm. I found her in the house in June. They are apparently very common in sawmills, as they breed in sawdust. Males have a much longer 'horn'.

Stag Beetle (le lucane cerf-volant) Lucanus cervus - perhaps the most magnificent of the big European beetles, this is a male. They are locally common, but more and more threatened, as they require standing dead wood in which they can spend 3-5 years as a larva. As a consequence they are protected in both France and Britain. They are very heavy and males are most often seen in this position, climbing a wall in the evening in order to launch themselves in search of females during May to August. They can be somewhat alarming in the air, as they fly with all six legs extended in a vertical plane with their body, and don't appear to have much steering or control. Simon and I have been 'chased' down the street by a very large one near our house, but this medium-large one was sitting on a wall near Jill and John's house in June. The size of this species varies enormously, and I have picked up especially large sets of antlers and elytra (wing cases) in the Bois de Las in the Brenne (not accessible to the public). All the French specimens I have seen are very much bigger than any I have seen in Britain.

Morimus asper - male and female. The female is big bodied with shorter antennae; the male is much smaller, but with enormously long antennae. They belong to that family of beetles known, for obvious reasons, as longhorns, and similarly to the Stag Beetles, are increasingly rare as they need standing dead wood to develop their larvae. We found this pair (and four of their friends) on birch logs in Haute Vienne in May.

Violet Oil Beetle (Méloé violet) Meloe violaceus - female, flightless, a parasite of bees (although adults eat the leaves of poisonous plants to keep up their supply of smelly, poisonous 'oil' which they can exude if threatened). Oil beetle larvae clamber up the tallest flower stalk they can find immediately that they hatch. They then hitch a ride on a visiting bee and get transported back to the nest, where they avail themselves of the nice warm home and the endless supply of free food. Once again, an increasingly uncommon species, but can be encountered quite frequently in the Forêt de Preuilly from April to July (this one is from June). Females are much bigger than males.

The Devil's Coach Horse (Le staphylin odorant ou 'le diable') Staphylinus olens - a large velvety rove beetle that hunts slugs and other invertebrates (I'm not quite sure what species the beetle victim is here). Like all rove beetles they are important processors of dead and decaying matter on the ground. Common in woods, gardens, outbuildings, hedgerows, from April to October. When alarmed it will raise its tail and look threatening, perhaps mimicking a scorpion. This one was on a track in the Forêt de Preuilly in July.

Dor Beetle (Bousier) Geotrupes stercorarius - Europe's largest dung beetle, often encountered on the forest floor or even in the street from April to October, but mainly a processor of cow dung, which it uses by digging a shaft under a cow pat and burying the dung which it then lays its eggs in. The larvae hatch to a ready supply of food. These beetles are the most brilliant metallic blue underneath, but it is almost impossible to capture this in a photograph. I found this one in the street in September.

Lesser Stag Beetle (La petite biche) Dorcus parallelopipedus - looks a lot like a female Stag Beetle, but has a much wider head, with no 'shoulders', and quite matt charcoal looking, rather than the 'polished mahogany' appearance of the Stag Beetle. Commonly found on oak woodpiles. Much more abundant than the Stag Beetle because it is much less picky about where it grows up -- Lesser Stag Beetles breed in rotting stumps. Once again the French specimens are significantly larger than the British ones. Adults are out and about from April to October. This one is from July in the Forêt de Preuilly.

Minotaur Beetle (le Minotaure) Typhaeus typhoeus - another dung beetle, this one is male and the species buries mainly rabbit droppings, but also sheep and deer, for the family larder. This one was photographed on the steps of the chapel at Chanceaux près Loches in May, but they are apparently mostly found in sandy places.

Susan

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

very nice. Thanks for this post.
Katarina

wcs said...

I think I've seen the stag beetle around our place, here in the Touraine. They're quite amazing, n'est ce pas?

Susan said...

Thanks Katarina :-)

Walt - yes you should get Stag Beetles where you are. Now you need to keep an eye out for all the other species and check them off. :-)

Dick said...

Thanks for your nice site. A large Weaver Beetle flew through an open window into our house in Gigondas just a couple of evenings ago - quite scary as we'd just been watching Alien! Maybe he/she wanted to watch as well!

Gina said...

I live in Harbertonford in Devon England. I have just been into my garden and seen a Violet Oil Beetle, are they common in England as I have never seen one before?

Susan said...

Gina: VOBs are the most common of the 4 remaining species of oil beetle in Britain, but all are in decline and several species are rare and threatened. At the moment, Buglife have a campaign to find out exactly how abundant they are and where they are, so please take the time to join the Buglife Oil Beetle Hunt and send them details of your sighting: http://www.buglife.org.uk/getinvolved/surveys/Oil+Beetle+Hunt.

Andrew Beveridge said...

Thanks, I have now identified thanks to youre pictures, a longhorn. Found it in the tete valley. South of France.

Susan said...

Andrew: Glad to have helped. Longhorns are always a nice find.

Anonymous said...

Just saw a VOB this week in Cornwall, near Fowey. Also a Tawney Bee, no doubt the prey this predator relies upon.

Susan said...

Anon: Excellent. They do parasitise mining bees, so TMBs could be a target.

Anonymous said...

Sitting enjoying some wine and a cigarette when I was hit on the chest by a fist sized black beast of a flying beetle, it scared the trousers off me, I think it was a stag beetle or possibly a winged brick from the south of France.