|Dead Stag Beetle, 2015|
I first encountered a dead Stag Beetle in the garden when I was 'following a tree' as part of Lucy Corrander's Tree Following meme in early July 2015. The tree in question was a Silver Birch just outside my window.
Cockchafers, also known as May bugs, would occasionally fly around the branches at twilight in late spring, and I liked to keep an eye out for them. One even flew inside on a warm evening. As we returned it to the wild, I was able to have a close look at the rusty shade of its acorn-like elytra. Cockchafers are interesting to watch as they zoom and buzz about; but live Stag Beetles are, in my opinion, rather more spectacular. They become feathery silhouettes as dusk gives way to darkness. Once airborne, their unwieldy bodies take on the guise of otherworldly beings.
Mark Twain, it seems, referred to Stag Beetles as Pinch Bugs. A few years ago a friend mentioned that she had seen her first 'Billywitch' of the season. I looked puzzled, and asked her what she meant. She proceeded to describe a Cockchafer, and I had to admit that the local term here in Suffolk was a perfect fit. I understand (source: Eastern Daily Press) that this dialect word was due to be included in an Oxford Dictionary in 2018.
Sadly Stag beetles are not as abundant as they used to be. They are now a protected species under Schedule 5 of the UK's Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the EU Habitats Directive of the Berne Convention. If you come across one, you are asked to log your sighting for the #greatstaghunt on the site of the People's Trust for Endangered Species. Maria Fremlin has written in some detail on these insects. Her pages include a list of names they are known by in different parts of the world and a brilliant poem by Lawrence Sail.
Other Stag Beetle sites you might enjoy:
- A Stag Beetle Lectures on the Futility of Flight, a poem by Barbara Cumbers
- The Stag Beetle Lucanus Cervus (Coleoptera, Lucanidae) in Art and Mythology by Eva Sprecher-Uebersax, Rev. Écol. (Terre Vie), suppt. 10, 2008. 153 (pdf).
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This post was written in response to the prompt 'encounter' on Dr Miriam Darlington's Facebook page for #30DaysWildCreativity.