4 – The Blue Stag Beetle
In my home county of Yorkshire the only stag beetle I’ve ever seen is the Lesser Stag, Dorcus parallelipipedus. In 2011, in Derbyshire, Robert and I were lucky enough to come across another UK stag beetle, Sinodendron cylindricum, the ‘Rhinoceros Beetle’. Unfortunately I have never seen the ‘true’ Stag Beetle, Lucanus cervus, which occurs mainly in southern England.
However, our fair isles were once home to another species – the ‘Blue Stag Beetle’, Platycerus caraboides. The Blue Stag is an 8 – 14mm long dead-wood specialist, and is ‘Fairly flat. Male more slender than female, bluish metallic sheen, female greenish’ (Olsen, et al., 2001). It lacks the enlarged mandibles of the ‘true’ Stag Beetle; its mouthparts are more similar in shape to those of the Lesser Stag.
There are only very few UK records for this species – possibly it was always very rare, or possibly the few records we know of were from relict populations sliding into extinction. Joy, who wrote what is essentially the definitive British work on coleoptera – A Practical Handbook of British Beetles – omitted the Blue Stag as ‘very rare and doubtfully British’ (Hodge & Jones, 1995). However, by 1970, the native status of the Blue Stag was described as ‘not… a doubtful case’ (Allen, 1970), presumably due to the unearthing of historical records. Indeed, in 1970, the Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation reported the discovery of two new specimens of the Blue Stag. The full extract is given below:
‘Mr. Jarvis writes that he possesses two carded (once pinned) specimens from the Adams collection, purchased long ago from the late A. Ford of Bournemouth and said by him to have been taken at Bristol. He believes that Ford derived this information from Adams’s catalogue or diary, but cannot be sure. It will be observed that the locality is not new, having been given by Stephens; the latter’s actual words, however, were “specimens have been taken by Mr. Waring of Bristol” — which is not quite explicit, though the locality is probably to be inferred. Adams was an early collector, and it seems distinctly possible that the above two specimens were actually taken by Waring, having survived passage through two or three (or even more) collections. In my notes (p. 203) on this extinct species I mentioned an old pair from Windsor as perhaps the only extant British specimens with a locality attached; so the existence of this Bristol pair — if the data can be assumed genuine — is of much interest, and tends to corroborate Stephens’s record.’ (Allen, 1970)
From this it can be seen that there were two records from Windsor, two possibly from Bristol, and the statement ‘I mentioned an old pair from Windsor as perhaps the only extant British specimens with a locality attached’, implies the existence of additional specimens lacking a locality – unfortunately an all-too-frequent occurrence with biological specimens.
An additional historical record comes from the annotations of Rev. F. W. Hope who, as an Oxford undergraduate from 1819 – 1822, collected beetles in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire. Amongst these annotations were ‘notes about five species in Wytham Woods. These are of extreme interest, because they include two species now regarded as long extinct in Britain: the largest species of burying-beetle in Europe, Necrophorus germanicus, and a stag-beetle, Platycerus caraboides’ (Elton, 1966). So, in addition to the Bristol and Windsor records above, there are also records from Wytham, Oxfordshire.
I see no reason to doubt the native status of the Blue Stag; instead I shall focus on mourning its passing. It has been said that the Blue Stag might ‘be a good candidate for re-introduction to Britain’ (Savill, et al., 2010) an idea towards which I immediately warm, but, without knowing the reasons for its decline and extinction, a reintroduction attempt might well be doomed to failure. Dramatic gasp!
Also, if any readers out there can offer the opportunity to see a ‘proper’ Stag Beetle, then please contact me.
Allen, A. A.(1970) Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation, T. Buncle & Co. Ltd., Arbroath, Angus.
Elton, C. S. (1966) The Pattern of Animal Communities, Methuen and Co. Ltd., London.
Hodge, P.J. & Jones, R. A. (1995) New British Beetles: Species Not in Joy’s Practical Handbook, British Entomological & Natural History Society, Reading.
Olsen, L. H., Sunesen, J. & Pedersen, B. V. (2001) Small Woodland Creatures, Oxford University Press, Oxford.