Friday, 22 February 2013

Doing a Salamander

The salamander was the emblem of the French kings and is particularly associated with François I. The salamander's position as royal insignia comes about because of its reputation of being able to survive unscathed from the fire.

 The background to this seems to be that salamanders, which are native to the Loire Valley, François' stronghold, live in cool, dark, damp places like firewood piles. Inevitably from time to time they came in on a log and were put on the fire. Naturally they scarpered pretty nippily once in proximity with the flames -- surviving unscathed.

Yesterday we had a bonfire in the orchard to get rid of a pile of prunings. At one stage I noticed a small movement at my feet and to my surprise a longhorn beetle was staggering away from the fire. It didn't look very well, so I think it was suffering from smoke inhalation and general roasting.

I picked it up and sat it on the box of matches to take some photos of it. After I had finished it determinedly chugged off into the undergrowth.

Once I got home I used the photos to identify it. There was no difficulty in that -- it is Cerambyx scopoli, the quite common lookalike little cousin of the rarest and most iconic of the French longhorn beetles C. cerdo, The Great Capricorn (France's biggest beetle at 55mm long).

I was surprised to see an adult longhorn in February, but it seems that some individuals of this species do emerge very early, like this one. Mostly however, the adults are active in May and into June.

This one is a female, with much shorter antennae than a male. I thought that her antennae and legs had a dusting of ash, but in fact, they are covered in grey downy hair. Her body is 'ruggedised' (as manufacturers of field equipment like to say), very textured, and verging on irridescent. She measured about 25mm from mandibles to elytra tips.

She is no threat to timbers in buildings. Like many big longhorns, she requires dead timber in still living trees for her larvae to develop in. The species is not really common enough to be considered a commercial pest, and because dead timber tends to be removed, the population of C. scopoli is almost certainly declining.


  1. We've had the huge longhorn here, Susan, I think... an almost identical beetle to this, but easily two inches from head to tail... not quite as ruggedized tho'... but huge and very, very strong!
    I identified as C.cerdo as I couldn't find anything else that was anything like it... wasn't aware that it was so rare tho'.

  2. Tim: there are a few contenders that are less rare eg Morimus asper and Lamia textor. Check out Have you got a pic? It would be very exciting if you did have them.

  3. Yes, I have a photo...
    in fact a whole chain of them...
    I took one picture against a Euro [my little ruler had hidden itself at the bottom of my bag...
    so I grabbed the coin instead]... the beetle looks like your one... with the same C-shaped eyes...
    but is a good 2.5 Euros long [jaws to tip of elytra].
    It also had a tube protruding from the back end.

    It was on our door one night in August...
    and I put it in a container overnight and took most pix the next morning.

    It laid what I took to be eggs overnight [white rugby balls]...
    having taken photographs of them, I put them under the bark of one of the old trognes...
    and put "her" there too.
    They aren't quick movers...
    more slow and sedate.

  4. Tim: send me a photo -- I'd love to see! The distribution map shows their status in 37 as 'very rare and localised'.

  5. Un beau longicorne.Je ne l'ai rencontré qu'une fois dans la nature!
    La douceur de la température a dû le "réveiller"!

  6. Pearl: yes, I love longhorns.

    Lucie: It was my first of this species too.