“Last weekend, my husband noticed a stag beetle on the pavement outside our flat in Greenwich. We had literally driven over it to park in our drive, so were very lucky not to have squashed it! At first he thought it was a child’s toy, but on closer inspection it was clearly a male stag beetle.
London is a relative hot spot for the protected beetle, whose populations are declining across Europe, but we were surprised to find one in the middle of a housing estate rife with predators, including cats, dogs, foxes, crows and magpies! Stag beetles play a significant and important role in recycling dead wood into new soil. Their larvae mature in dead wood for around seven years. The more decomposed the wood the better, as it enables the larvae to focus their energy on growth rather than breaking down the wood fibres. Mature beetles surface in the spring and early summer to mate, so it was the right time of year for adult stag beetle-spotting.
During the breeding season the males use their mandibles, which are sometimes referred to as “antlers”, to impress females and ward off, or sometimes even wrestle, rival males. Once the female has found an appropriate dead wood habitat to lay her eggs in she dies.
By gardening with stag beetles in mind you can provide suitable habitats for them. For example, by leaving tree stumps in situ, creating log piles, covering water butts and avoiding the use of polythene sheeting as a method of weed control, as emerging adult beetles can become trapped under them. If you find stag beetle larvae in a compost heap you might want to bury it elsewhere as compost heaps generally do not contain enough dead wood to enable the larvae to mature. Remember to choose a quiet spot, cover loosely with soil and include some rotting wood!”