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537 illustration

Common stag beetle

Lucanus cervus

A large beetle with dark, violet-brown wing cases and reddish-brown antlers, the male is easily recognisable from its mouthparts, which have evolved into enormous jaws resembling the antlers on a stag’s head. Despite their fearsome appearance, these antlers are useless for biting and are used when fighting other males. The larvae are creamy white with an orange-brown head and six stubby legs.

The stag beetle lives in broad-leaved woodlands, especially oak, but can also be found in parks and gardens where there are hedgerows, tree stumps and logs. It can be found throughout Southern and Central Europe.

The larvae live for three to five years. Adults live only between the months of May and August. The male has strong wings beneath its wing cases and flies at dusk in search of a female. It shows off to her by walking round her with raised antlers. If two males are interested in the same female, they will fight each other using their antlers. The stronger of the two turns the other onto his back and the loser retreats. The female lays eggs in rotting wood and the larvae eat rotting wood and roots. It is not certain whether adult stag beetles eat anything at all. Some scientists believe that they use a special tongue to lick sap from trees, but others believe they live out their adult lives without eating.

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