Beetling Around

The natural world everywhere is under pressure, and species are being elbowed over the edge to extinction. Tigers, polar bears and gorillas immediately come to mind as we sit in our armchairs and mutter about how someone should do something.  Well, it is not only the large and spectacular in remote landscapes that we should worry about. The UK lost half of its species of oil beetles in the 20th century. This leaves just four oil beetles: the rugged, the short-necked, the violet and the black.

These little creatures have oily knee joints that puts off predators, except for us who are prone to stepping on them. Beetle larvae crawl out of their burrows and then lurk until a mining bee comes by. At this point they get bold and stowaway until they get to the bees nest. This is success for an oil beetle larva. From this point on, life is just one long feast of eggs and nectar until its time to put on their carapace and venture out into the wide world.

Now they are under threat. There is a nationwide survey now going on (1) to provide an accurate statement of the problem. The decline of the bee population is a major cause, which in turn is our fault as we see wild flowers as taking up crop space and all bugs as bad so that herbicides and pesticides are scattered with wild abandon.

It’s not just oil beetles that are in decline. The UKs largest, the stag beetle, beloved by kids in past years and doing time in many matchboxes in the last century, is also threatened. Dr. Harvey and her colleagues at the U of London and U of York (2) have been checking on numbers. Successful trapping of adults was aided with ginger, which acts like catnip for beetles, and they listened in to larval conversations, or more correctly stridulations, to see what was going on today in lumps of rotten wood.


2 Responses so far.

  1. Wow, amazing, I feel like spreading some ginger about !

  2. jazgal says:

    Was that powdered or fresh root, I wonder. Who knew?
    The oil beetles seem to lead such an exotic life, but balanced so precariously on the mining bee! And the dear old stag beetle - wasn't that the Alexander Beetle referred to lovingly by A.A. Milne?

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