Children -nature-11-Beetles-two { a look at the species }

In Children-nature 10  we looked at the beetles and at what parts made up the beetle {biology}, here we look at some of the species. Did you know there are over 4,000 species of beetles in the UK.?  Beetles belong to different groups and they vary quite a lot in size, shape and colour. We start with the Devil's coach horse which has been given the scientific name of Ocypus olens.

The devil's coach horse

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The devil's coach horse. Ocypus olens.

This scary-looking beetle is a familiar sight to gardeners, and once seen it is rarely forgotten. It is a long black creature which has the habit of turning up its tail, in the manner of a scorpion, and opening its jaws in a threatening pose when disturbed. The elytra {wing cases} are, in this species, remarkably short, hence they belong to the family of beetles known as the Staphylinidae and the genus Ocypus. They were once placed in the sub family Brachylytra {short elytra} and given the scientific name of Goerius olens.

They are active, voracious feeders, of an elongated shape which has been described as ' reminding one of a large black earwig, only the tail has no forceps.'. The genus name of Ocypus  means 'swift footed',while olens refers to the foul smelling liquid it is capable of sending from the rear of its abdomen, which deters predators from attacking them.

The devil's coach horse is about an inch long and the wing cases only cover the thorax leaving the abdomen exposed, where the segments can be clearly seen. they have long pincer-like jaws, which are capable of giving a nasty nip. The Devil's coach horse tends to feed at night. Both the adults and the larvae are carnivores {flesh eaters} feeding on invertebrates which include earthworms and woodlice which are caught by the powerful mandibles. during the day the Devil's coach horse hides under stones, logs etc.it may be encountered in gardens and woodland from April until October.

Nothing  comes amiss to this beetle, which will attack and devour almost any other insect, and, according to Miss E.F.Stavely in her book 'British Insects' 1871--" They have been seen feeding on young toads and other such animals. A larva, not more than half an inch long, of a species allied to this, was once seen to kill and drag into its hole an earthworm which was eighteen times heavier than itself."

When not eating live animals the beetles of this group feed on dead animal matter, dung etc. 

The larvae are very similar to the adults but for its darker colour, the hardness of its skin and above all the presence of wing cases { elytra}, might be mistaken for the larvae of some other species.

Cetonia aurata

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Centonia aurata the Rose chaffer beetle.

Cetonidae are a family of beetles which have the following characteristics. The antennae have ten joints, the club consisting of three joints. the thorax widening towards the hind margin, The body is nearly ovate, obtuse and somewhat depressed.

Cetonia aurata  is the Rose chaffer, this pretty little insect is one of the most beautiful of all British beetles. the colour is of a fine golden green, very shining above and bright coppery beneath. The elytra {wing cases} are ornamented near the tips with numerous transverse white marks. the form of the body is rather obtuse {blunted}.

The insect is found during the summer months, particularly in gardens, flying well and with a humming noise, in the heat of the day.as the fly their wing cases are held down and they may be mistaken for a bumble bee. They feed on flowers, nectar and pollen and they tend to favour roses, hence the common name. they are found from May until August, occasionally later.

The larvae are C-shaped and have a firm, wrinkled , hairy body, small head and tiny legs. However, they tend to move on their backs { which is a good identification indicator}. The larvae over winter in compost, manure, leaf mould  and rotting wood. They pupate June and July. Some adult beetles may emerge in Autumn, however, the main emergence occurs in spring when the adults mate. they have a two year cycle.

Aroma moschata

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Long horn beetles

Long horn beetles are so called because of their long antennae. Their larvae are all wood feeding insects, but are not generally in sufficient numbers to cause to much damage. The larger beetles may some times be found resting on the trunks of trees by day,especially near the roots, and some of the smaller species are very active on the wing.

One of our largest and commonest  longhorn beetles belong to the family Cerermbycidae-the Musk beetle Aromia moschata, which emits a strong but rather agreeable odour. It is a long, green,metallic or coppery coloured beetle an inch or more in length,with curving antennae at least as long as the body, and the scales of the thorax has a sharp angular projection. It is sometimes encountered on the trunks of willows during the day time in the summer months, in which its larvae feed. it is not very active and may easily be picked up by hand, it is quite harmless.

They take up to three years to develop. often found in woods near to wetlands. Although they are widespread they are regarded as scarce through England, Wales and southern Scotland. 

Burying beetles---Image of Nicrophorus humator.

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Burying beetles

The so called burying beetles belong to the Family Silphidae and the sub -family Nicrophorinae and placed in the genus Nicrophorus. The species here in the Uk are black with red markings on the elytra. 

Nicrophorus humator formerly necrophorus humater is of a general brownish black colour with three last joints on the antennae orange-yellow. The elytra are deeply punctured and each have slightly elevated lines. The breast and also legs are covered with yellowish hairs.this species is frequent in England and all the species are known as burying beetles from their habit of burying small dead animals, which are used as a receptacle for their eggs. Therefore despite it sounding gruesome, they are performing a very important service in the economy of nature. if it were not for these beetles and other carrion eaters, our gardens and the countryside in general would be littered by dead animals.

Any small animal such as a mole or a mouse , is soon visited by the Silphidaewho creep beneath the body and commence scraping away the earth till they make a pit, into which the animal gradually sinks. When it has reached a sufficient depth, the earth is thrown over it. when the young larvae of the beetles hatch out they happily feed on the body until it is gone.

Geotrupes stercorarius

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Geotrupes geneus

Geotrupes is a genus of beetles which have antennae with a club divided into  laminae. The mandibles stand out from the head, and are notched. The thorax is very convex and as broad as the elytra which are short and oval.

Geotrupes stercorarius {pictured above}  is entirely black above, tinted with violet. The thorax is without punctures on the disc, but they have a few on the sides, and a short line in the middle. The elytra are marked with deep grooves, the spaces between smooth and convex. the underside and legs are steel blue, beautifully glossed with purple or green.

This beetle prefers to fly on still dull evenings at which time their humming noise is easily heard. 

The Bombardia beetles

The large wings of this species are folded and unfolded with an amazing speed. They can also run fast. this group of beetles also feed on carrion . There are more than 500 species world wide and they take their common name from the fact that when threatened they let out a hot noxious chemical spray from the tip of their abdomen which is accompanied by a 'popping' sound.. this spray will blind any insect that attacks it.

These beetles belong to the genus brachinus and the family Carabidae. The streaked bombardia beetle,Brachinus sclopeta is extremely rare in the UK and is subject to a UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which are designed to look after the species and their habitat, and hopefully save them from extinction.

It is one of only two species found in the UK along with the common bombardia beetle Brachinus crepitens. However, despite the common name B.crepitens is also rare.  It is mainly found in southern England and southern Wales where it frequents coastal areas.

Bombardia beetle.

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As we have seen just by looking at these very few species of beetles they are all different in appearance and size. However, they are a fascinating group of insects to study. Below there are more images of beetles to further demonstrate their various sizes some are large others are very tiny. Other species of beetles that feature on this site, including the lady birds, are featured in  the associated pages box below.

Soldier beetles on flowers

Tiny beetles feeding in a hedge bindweed flower with a bee.

Lady birds on fence

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