Print Posted By Lost in France on 21 Sep 2005 in Wildlife - Wildlife and nature in France

Stag Beetles

Male Stag BeetlesFrom around the beginning of June on warm evenings we start to hear the drone of male Lucanus Cervus as they make their apparently impossible flights to seek out the females. The females don't fly as often as the males, tending to spend more of their time on the ground waiting for the males to find them. Sometimes more than one will arrive attracted by the females pheromones, the males then proceed to 'fight for the right' using their large antlers to wrestle with, happily this rarely causes harm as the weakest backs down and retreats from battle. Lucanus Cervus is the largest European beetle, the Stag Beetle, or as they are called in French 'Le Lucane Cerf Volant'.

Most people I speak to seem to be at least a little bit fascinated by these spectacular creatures, particularly the males which have the large antler like mandibles and although these look rather threatening it is the female which is about half the size of the male and lacks the antlers, who is more likely to give you a bit of a pinch if you pick her up; she is equipped with very powerful and sharp mandibles like clippers. Should you need to move one out of harms way, from a path or from your house, it is best to nudge them from behind into a tin or plastic container and tip them out under a bush or by a tree, making sure that they don't end up on their back.

Female Stag BeetleAfter copulation has taken place the female lays her eggs on the ground in the immediate vicinity of feeder wood, this is old, rotten wood lying on the ground or at the base of dead or partly dead trees, and although there is a preference for oak or chestnut other timbers will be used. The larva, which can also 'nip', live in the rotting wood ( classified as saproxylophages, creatures which live in dead and rotting wood) ) for up to five years before pupating and then emerging as adults in the following year, thus the entire life cycle can be six years which is significant when considering the decline of this species.

Here in Poitou Charantes where we live the Stag Beetle is doing pretty well; overall in Europe it has declined and is now scarce in much of its previous range. Jean Henri Fabre, 1823-1915, French entomologist and author, reported that he filled a top hat with them in one evening, which is unimaginable now even if you took a month where they are plentiful. Land clearance for agriculture is clearly one reason for the decline, other likely reasons are that we are probably just to tidy, very little wood is left lying around to rot in parks and gardens, wood used for fence posts and the like is usually chemically treated, old trees are removed before completing their full life cycle and hedgerows which contain a large quantity of dead wood and debris at their base have been removed. As stated above, we are fortunate in this region, which may be due in part to the rotational coppicing for firewood on a 30 to 40 year cycle which leaves quantities of dead wood and stumps in situ. Never the less every effort should be made to maintain this species in its continuing strongholds; apart from being a superb creature it's also an important part of the food chain, providing food for Owls, Foxes, Badgers and many other creatures.

Lesser Stag BeetleIf you have veteran trees, try to leave them standing, or if you do need to cut down trees, try to leave the stumps in place to decay. Try to maintain a native species hedge if you have one, or if you have land consider planting a native species hedge. Make a log pile in a corner of your garden and add to it each year allowing it to slowly rot; the addition of bark, wood chippings and sawdust will be useful, it is important that the bottom remains in contact with or slightly buried in the soil. This can be discreetly hidden behind a bush or shrub or made into a decorative garden feature for those with an artistic leaning. All of these measures will benefit many other species besides the Stag Beetle and encourage biodiversity.

It should be made absolutely clear that the larva do not pose any threat whatsoever to dry; sound wood in your buildings, only moist decomposing wood will be used outside on the ground.

It should be noted that females are easily confused with the Lesser Stag Beetle Dorcus parallelipipedus which resembles the female stag beetle but has all-black body and proportionately large and broad head and thorax.

In the UK it is listed as a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) and is listed under Annex II of the EC Habitats Directive and Appendix III of the Bern Convention.

Copyright © 2005 Chris Luck

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