Did you know that when you spot a Stag Beetle, what you’re seeing is the result of up to six years of development that mainly takes place underground? Read on to learn the remarkable life-cycle of this incredible beetle…

COURTSHIP...

A warm summer’s evening, and a male Stag Beetle takes to the air – heading off in search for a mate…

Any time from around the middle of May through to the end of August you may be greeted by the sight of a male beetle, buzzing through the air, trying to pick up the scent of a female that he can mate with. There is an urgency to his actions – the beetles only live for a matter of weeks, so the time he has to ensure the survival of the species for another generation is limited.

Males are guided to females by pheromones that they emit. Upon locating a female, the male will attempt to mate with her. Males mate with multiple females across the course of the season. Occasionally multiple males will compete for a female, fighting each other off with their large mandibles (antlers).

Towards the end of her life, having mated, the female will head off to lay her eggs, starting the next stage of the cycle…

...NEW BEGINNINGS

Female Stag Beetles lay an average of 24 eggs, depositing them underground near rotting wood.

Assuming enough wood remains to support their offspring, females will often return to where they emerged to lay. The eggs are tiny – measuring just a few mm long. They will develop for around 30 days before hatching, at which point a tiny, totally creamy-white larva will emerge. Within a few hours of hatching, the larva will develop the distinctive bright orange head that is characteristic of Stag Beetle larvae.

GROWING UP...

The rotting wood near to where it hatched will become the larva’s home for up to the next six years.

It will feed on the wood, and in the soil around it, growing to an eventual size of up to 110mm. During the larval phase, the beetle is building up all the fat stores in its body that it will use to fuel it for the few short weeks of its adult life.

The larvae have to moult their skin as they grow – they will do this anywhere from 3-5 times across the course of their development.

...CHANGES

In its final autumn before emerging as a fully formed beetle, a radical change occurs that marks the final phase of its subterranean development.

The larva exits the rotting wood in which it has been feeding, moving back into the soil surrounding it. Here it will build a cocoon around itself – a hard case of earth and chewed up wood. Once encased in this protective shell it transforms itself into a pupa.

This remarkable stage in its development is the first point at which the male and female beetles can be easily distinguished, as a male pupa will sprout its distinctive mandibles, amongst all the other features it develops that makes it recognisable as the beetle it is about to become.

The pupal stage lasts for up to around 60 days, at the end of which the beetle is finally ready to assume its adult form.
As this day approaches, dark details can be seen ever clearer beneath the pupa’s skin, which starts to take on a dry, papery appearance. Eventually, fully formed legs will start to break through, and over the next 24 hours the beetle will fully break free of its pupal skin, fully developed. It’s still not time for it to emerge yet though – it will spend the rest of the autumn and winter underground, waiting for the temperatures to rise as summer approaches.

THE END (AND THE BEGINNING)...

Come summer, the beetle will dig its way up to the surface, emerging into daylight for the very first time in its life – ready to head out into the world and start the cycle all over again…

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