Beetle re-emerges after 60 years


Mar 19, 2007

A beetle thought to be extinct in the UK since the 1940s has been rediscovered in south Devon.

The short-necked oil beetle was found by an amateur entomologist during a wildlife survey on National Trust (NT) land between Bolt Head and Bolt Tail.

The beetles were last recorded at Chailey Common, Sussex in 1948.

Up to 40 of the insects, which survive by hitching rides on miner bees as larvae and then eating the bees' eggs, were found at the Devon site.

The beetle, which gets its name from the highly toxic oil secretions it produces when threatened, is also known as Meloe brevicollis.

The adult beetles, which live for about three months, lay up to 1,000 eggs in a burrow in soft or sandy soil and eggs hatch in the following spring.

Once they have hatched the young larvae crawl up on to vegetation, often lying in wait in flowers, for an unsuspecting mining bee to give them a lift to the bee's nest.

They then devour the bee's egg and also the protein rich pollen stores the bee intended to provide for its own larvae.

But the flightless creature's natural habitats and the populations of bees they rely on have been decimated by intensive farming practices.

The NT said the coastal strip of land where the oil beetle was discovered by Bob Beckford had been managed less intensively as farmland, creating a habitat where the beetle could survive undisturbed.

This site will now be monitored and the lifecycle of the beetle examined in more detail so the land is managed in a way that helps the insect flourish.

David Bullock, head of nature conservation at the NT, said: "The discovery of a beetle that was thought to be extinct for nearly 60 years is an amazing story of survival, particularly for a species with such an interdependent lifecycle.

"It's great that this oil beetle, with its fascinating lifestyle, has survived against all the odds and is back in business on the south Devon coast."