Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

BLACK OIL BEETLE - (Meloe proscarabaeus)

Black Oil Beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus) exploring my leg.
Females are larger than males.
I was in a micro-village where there are primroses, sheep, a red telephone-box and a Church with what I took at the time to be a Saxon tower but which isn't. This is where The Grand Old Duke of York took his ten-thousand men to the top of a hill and marched them down again. What on earth were they doing? Keeping fit? Trying to get their bearings by spotting the sea in the distance?

As you can tell - this isn't a very academic blog. I expect I could easily find out but haven't lifted an internet finger in search of an answer. I wasn't there to study military history or research nursery rhymes, I was planning a stuck-foot post.

I thought this beetle would prefer to explore the grass
or a leaf but it took a lot of persuading before it would
get off my shoe.
A stuck-foot post is where you put your foot down and don't move till you've seen what you can see and photographed what you need for your blog. I invented the idea and set the rules for myself but I recommend you try it. It's wonderful what you can find if you give yourself the discipline of standing still. (You can twist and bend your body but you can't swivel.) 

It wasn't going well though. The light was all wrong. There was an interesting mound of moss but it was throwing off white glints so detail didn't show. There were some flowering dead nettles - which are pretty but dark and they weren't coming out well in photos either. There were some flat white stones embedded in the bank like bricks and . . . and . . . what was that . . . that black thing which moved?

The round dots which look like rivets in a heavy metal beetle
are the spiracles - through which it breathes.
This is the thing with a stuck foot post; first you realise there's always much more in any place than you might expect; and sometimes you discover (or re-discover because it can be a perpetual surprise) that when you're looking for one thing it may take a few moments before you notice others you didn't expect - and having once noticed them, they may turn out to be there in numbers and suddenly they are un-un-noticable. So - if hadn't rooted myself to that particular spot I might never have seen . . . seen . . . masses of Black Oil Beetles (Meloe proscrabaeus).

Mating?
That was the end of my stuck-foot post. Abandoning any attempt at standing still, I hurried along the bank. There were masses of the!. Now I'd tuned my eyes to them - they were everywhere! falling off blades of grass and stones (they kept falling off things) pottering into the road, mating, laying eggs (I think that's what they were doing) and generally living their beetley lives while not a car passed and I ran up and down being excited because, although they are not rare, I'd never seen them before - at least, not in these numbers.

Laying eggs? Or waiting for the right moment?


I may still know nothing about The Grand Old Duke of York - but did find out a little about the beetles. Having mated, each female digs burrows (maybe two or three) and lays eggs in them - up to a 1,000! When they hatch (generally a year later) they climb flowers and hang out with the pollen in wait for solitary, ground-nesting bees. ('Solitary bee' indicating the kind of bee which lives alone rather than one which is out on a mission by itself from its hive.) When one comes along (hopefully the right kind!) they climb onto its back and hitch a secret lift into the bee's burrow where turn into larva and eat the bee's eggs, pollen and nectar supplies. They pupate, turn into adult beetles, spend the winter in the bee's burrow and emerge in the spring to begin the cycle again - which is what they were doing when I came across them scurrying around in my stuck-foot post . . . and all along the bank below the hedgerow.

Although these beetles are densely black,
when the light falls on them in certain ways
they are of such a wonderful
blue its intense beauty is impossible to freeze.
There are five kinds of Oil Beetle remaining in the UK. Black Oil Beetle (which is what these are), Violet Oil Beetle, Rugged Oil Beetle, Short-necked Oil Beetle, Mediterranean Oil Beetle. Three others have become extinct and of the ones which remain Short-necked and Mediterranean Oil Beetles are at serious risk of becoming so. (I'm having trouble with the maths here - another source says three out of nine kinds of native oil beetle remain. This may be because small colonies of beetle are found from time to time so extinct/not extinct can be a bit nebulous. And it may be down to confusion between the different nations of the UK which sometimes confuse those of us who live here as much as they probably do outsiders!) 

What To Do If You See an Oil Beetle.

A moth for a bonus!
On the ceiling in my house.
March 30th 2014
Small Magpie Moth
(Eurrhypara hortulata)
Spring!
Run up and down and be excited of course. (But if one decides to climb your shoe and walk round your leg - stand still in awe!) (If one goes up your trouser leg - permission to feel a little less calm about things. A large brown cricket once boinged up mine and I unceremoniously panicked. I don't know why I panicked. Crickets aren't don't eat people. But I couldn't help it. Odd, we humans, don't you think?)

Then, if you are in the UK you could report your sighting to the Oil Beetle Survey on the Buglife Site. (You register first - see top right hand side of the report sightings page.)

If you are in Scotland - click here - you may come across the rare Short-necked Oil Beetle.
* * *

The beetle photos were all taken on 26th March 2014
Encyclopedia of Life - Worth Exploring
Encyclopedia of Life - Black Beetle Page

14 comments:

Janet said...

There is so much going on that we humans don't notice, unless we stop and look and wait.

Brilliantly detailed photos btw

flightplot said...

A fascinating post and terrific photos. I often stop to look at insects on the plot then wonder what they are, but with few exceptions rarely manage to identify them

flightplot said...

...Flighty xx

Countryside Tales said...

Lovely, Lucy! I really enjoyed this post. Those beetles are smashing, although I'm not so keen on them eating bee eggs :-( However, I am a fan of beetles and often do what you've done here, stand still (or usually get on my knees) and see what there is to photograph, always more than you think. CT :-)

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Hello Janet. I was lucky that particular beetle decided to leave the grass and walk on my foot - it moved into better light; so in that I was lucky. As for the ones in the grass - little detail because every time I got them in focus they fell off their blade or stone. At earlier stages in their lives they have a good grip so they can fly on bees - by this age they seem to have lost it!

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Hello Mike. That's where a camera comes in. If I try to identify something by memory - I learn how little I remember. Having a camera always about my person helps! Sometimes insects can be told apart only by quite small details that one doesn't necessarily know about in advance - like how its head meets its neck or its neck its body.

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Hello Countryside Tales. Glad you enjoyed the beetle post. I don't like the idea of beetles eating bee eggs either - but the presence of the beetles does at least indicate there are bees nearby. They sort of go together. (Though I don't see that the bee gets anything out of the relationship!)

Tim Havenith said...

Great photos, Lucy. It's been a couple of years since I saw a black oil beetle, I'll have to keep my eye out this year.

colleen said...

Such a complicated life those beetles have in many ways. All that waiting.
Love the idea of a stuck foot post - and really enjoyed this one.

Richard said...

Older sources say 3 species because brevicollis and mediterraneus were thought to be extinct in Britain, until their rediscovery a couple of years ago by Bob Heckford and John Walters respectively. There's actually 8 species native to Britain, 3 of which are thought to be extinct here, 2 found at 1 or 2 sites, 1 rare, 2 scarce. Nice find!

Dartford Warbler said...

I must try a Stuck Foot post some time!

Beautiful blue-black beetles. Not sure I have knowingly met one before.....

Hollis said...

Stuck Foot post -- another great idea from Lucy, thanks!

squirrelbasket said...

Oh, that is the most wonderful blog post! I see now where you get your powers of observation from (standing still!) - I must learn the lesson.
I love beetles and these are super-duper. Funnily enough I am working on a blog post on iridescence at the moment and these almost qualify with that brilliant rainbow blue...
All the best :)

Toffeeapple said...

A ver interesting post Lucy, I like to learn new things and these beetles are superb.

Every year I get a Magpie moth in my house, just the one.