In late May and then throughout June and into the first few weeks of July, we are privileged to enjoy the emergence and spectacular appearance of male Stag Beetles (Lucanus Cervus). Happily for us, one of the best places in the UK to see these wonderful insects is Totternhoe in Bedfordshire, just a few miles south of Milton Keynes, the topography of which means one can see them both flying and settled without too much difficulty.
Totternhoe Knolls is located on the north-east side of Totternhoe village, and the woodland spilling down from the Knolls meets the beetles’ requirements with undisturbed dells and hollows full of dead trees and rotted oak stumps, home to the inch-and-a-half long, curved beetle larvae. Emergence into the adult state takes between four and seven years. Dependent upon available nourishment for the larval stage, the adult male beetle may be anything from one to three inches long, possessing ‘antlers’ (the male beetle’s jaw appendages) upwards of half-an-inch to over an inch long. And yes, they can pinch unwary fingers to draw blood, which I can attest to from my first ever Stag Beetle encounter in southern France, despite literature assuring you to the contrary. So, best not to touch!
With their wing cases stuck outwards and upwards at ninety degrees to their body line, sepia wings frantically buzzing and legs akimbo with those spectacular jaws jutting out to the front, these insects present a unique sight and sound on balmy June evenings. The Elm hedge lining the opposite side of the road makes ideal landing spots and with care, you can hear the male beetles rustling about in the crisp bunches of Elm leaves.
Female beetles are difficult to find but by wandering – carefully! – with a good torch, along the rather busy Castle Hill Road from the ideal starting point of the Cross Keys pub, a great refreshment spot in better times, from around 9.45pm through until 10.30pm, you should both see (and hear) male Stag Beetles flying like miniature lunar-landers above you along the tree-line right down to head-height!
Enjoying the sight and sound of Europe’s largest beetle has become a much looked-forward to experience every summer and really is to be recommended as something not to be missed.