Battling beetles

, 29 May 2017
Battling beetles
Hugh Clarke FRPS
by Charlotte Owen,

WildCall Officer

The clashing of antlers as powerful stags wrestle for the right to mate would normally be associated with the autumn deer rut - but it’s just as magnificent in miniature.

The spectacular stag beetle is one of our most impressive insects, named for the huge ‘antlers’ wielded by the males.These are actually over-sized mandibles, or jaws, and they are used to battle rivals in a test of strength and endurance.The jaws themselves are huge in relation to the beetle’s body, and while they may seem ungainly they make very effective weapons.The aim of a stag beetle battle is first to dislodge your opponent; both males will grip tightly to the surface they are fighting on, often the branch of an oak tree, while attempting to grab hold of their opponent and force him to lose his footing.This takes considerable time and effort, especially when the beetles are evenly matched; they have specialised claws that are incredibly strong and provide excellent grip and balance for prolonged bouts of wrestling.Eventually though, one combatant will gain the advantage and lift his opponent completely off his feet, raising him high into the air before throwing him backwards and flinging him unceremoniously out of his territory to claim a clear victory.

Males with longer jaws have an advantage because they can reach further and grab hold of their opponent before coming into range themselves.But the longer the jaws, the further the bite force has to be transferred, so males have much larger heads than females to accommodate the necessary enormous jaw muscles, and they also have specialised anatomy that acts a bit like the handles on a pair of pliers to allow them to grip with sufficient power.The result is a formidable weapon but it’s only used for courtship, and stag beetles are completely harmless to humans.You can see them from May onwards in woodlands, hedgerows, parks and gardens but they are not common everywhere, and are absent from many parts of Sussex.

If you do see one this summer, please let me know by using our online recording form.

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  • Lynis Nash:

    One came flying in through the open sitting room window late on Thursday evening, wondered what it was! Eventually it appeared from under the TV cabinet. Caught it in a jar and put back inthe garden. Quite large.

    29 May 2017 17:09:51