Beetles

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Sexton beetles feeding on dead rodent

The undertakers of the beetle world, sexton beetles bury corpses as a food source for their larvae. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons.

Beetles are the largest order (Coleoptera) of insects with some 350,000 to 400,000 species. They are found in many habitats throughout the world, except at the poles and in the oceans.

Around 40% of all insect species are beetles and about 25% of all known animals are beetles. They have hard exoskeletons made up of tough plates of chitin that offer protection and prevent dehydration.

Beetles are a fascinating and varied group of organisms. They inhabit a variety of ecosystems within woodland and have a range of diets.

Dead and decaying wood

The larvae of death-watch beetles, Xestobium rufovillosum, feed on wood in old trees, but are also a pest of wood in buildings. Larvae of stag beetle, Lucanus cervus, lesser stag beetle, Dorcus parallelipipedus, and rhinoceros beetle, Sinodendron cylindricum, eat rotting wood. Adults prefer tree sap. Timberman, Acanthocinus aedilis, larvae favour the rotting wood of Scots pine trees.

Dead animals

Orange and black sexton beetle, Nicrophorus vespillo, can be seen burying dead animals for their larvae to feed on. Black sexton beetle, Nicrophorus humator, is another that flies long distances to find carrion using its sense of smell.

Faeces

As one of the largest dung beetles in the UK, the dor beetle, Geotrupes stercorarius, helps to recycle unwanted materials from other animals.

Fungi

You can find false ladybird, Endomychus coccineus, among decaying wood and vegetation feasting on fungi.

Other insects

Cardinal beetles, Pyrochroa serraticornis, can be seen on flowers along woodland edges. They eat other insects, as do the fast-moving devil’s coach-horse beetles, Staphylinus olens. The green tiger beetle, Cicindela campestris, is a ferocious hunter with a formidable set of jaws. The 7-spot ladybird, Coccinella 7-punctata, is popular with gardeners as they eat aphids. The kidney-spot ladybird, Chilocorus renipustulatus, feasts on scale insects that infest tree bark. Soldier beetles, Rhagonycha fulva, can be found at the woodland edge hunting for springtails.

Pollen or nectar

Bright green flower beetles can be found feeding on pollen. Black and yellow longhorn, Rutpela maculate, adults eat nectar, but the larvae feed on rotting trees. Iridescent green noble chafers, Gnorimus nobilis, often feed on hogweed, meadowsweet and elder. Varied carpet beetle adults, Anthrenus verbasci, eat nectar and pollen, but the larvae can be pests of clothing and carpets. The well camouflaged wasp beetle, Clytus arietis, is one to watch for at the woodland edge.

Vegetation

Adult cockchafer, Melolontha melolontha, beetles can be seen clumsily flying during early summer. Their favourite food are oak leaves. Garden chafers, Phyllopertha horticola, are also out in summer, along with flower eating rose chafers, Cetonia aurata.

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Beech wood in autumn.

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