The transitory phase of the adult belies its ‘other’ existence. We might think of the Stag Beetle as being short-lived, that its emergence is synonymous with its birth. But this could not be further from the truth. Its manifestation as an adult is an ephemeral swansong, serving only to complete the astonishingly long life-cycle of this most enigmatic and impressive beast. If you make sudden acquaintance with a Stag Beetle, would it surprise you to learn that its life began at least five years ago, beneath your feet? Female Stags lay their eggs in loose, loamy soil, ideally by a rotting broadleaf tree stump. The larvae are saproxylic (dependent on dead wood) and upon hatching they burrow into the soft decaying tree, whereupon they embark upon an ‘all-you-can-eat-buffet’. They will spend the next five to seven years eating, growing and moulting, becoming colossal in size. The considerable fat reserves they build up during this binge are important, because they will expend a huge amount of energy during pupation, transforming from this soft, squidgy larva into an armoured, winged leviathan of a beetle that we know – one of the true wonders of nature. Over just a few weeks,, the simple-looking larva will completely transform. The newly minted, complex, hard-shelled adult will then spend the winter underground, ready to emerge in late spring, fully equipped to fulfil the need to perpetuate its DNA. Our increasing obsession with keeping things tidy and ordered is a direct threat to Stag Beetle populations. The dead wood and rotting stumps that they require are too often removed to make way for paving and pristine lawns. Mature trees and orchards are cleared for redevelopment in urban areas, reducing the available habitat. Large numbers are killed by vehicles when they land on roads, attracted by the warm surface. Many are simply exterminated by humans fearful of their size and appearance. Such is the threat to Stag Beetle numbers, that they are now legally protected and classed as a ‘priority species’, listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
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