Sussex Wildlife Trust: Stag Beetles: Two Falls, Two Submissions or a Knockout

June 1st, 2021
In June, Stag Beetles – the big daddies of the beetle world – are emerging from the ground and getting ready to rumble
I’ve only ever had one sporting hero. In the red corner, standing 6ft 6 and weighing in at 365lbs, Big Daddy kept my Gran and I glued to the TV set on wet Saturday afternoons as he wrestled Giant Haystacks or Kendo Nagasaki in his sequined spandex.

In June, Stag Beetles – the big daddies of the beetle world – are emerging from the ground and getting ready to rumble. There’s around 3,000 different species of beetle in Sussex and an estimated 29,000 species across Europe.

Just as Big Daddy’s 64-inch chest earned him a place in the Guinness Book of Records, the 2.5 inch long Stag Beetle holds the coveted title of Europe’s Biggest Beetle. And, like a 26 stone man in a spangly leotard, the adult male Stag Beetle is equally impressive and ludicrous.

Its 3-segmented black and maroon armoured body is crowned with a ridiculous pair of trademark stag-like ‘antlers’. They are actually modified mandible mouthparts and are used to impress the antler-less females and to grapple rival males.

Before these tiny titans step into the ring they have to put in some long hours in training. The beetle’s larvae spend an incredible 5-6 years munching on a deadwood diet of buried logs and roots, building the bulky body that will sustain them to survive above ground.

As adults they will live for just a few weeks without feeding, relying solely on the fuel tanks accumulated underground. In early summer, after pupation and transformation, they burst from the ground and go looking for a fight.

I always find it incredible that these chunky, bulky beetles can fly but on warm evenings they whir through the air with the grace and subtlety of a Chinook on aerial reconnaissance for females. But if another male beats them to it that’s when things get nasty.

In my fantasies I imagine these beetle brawls to play out on a dead tree stump. A crowd of over-excited elderly invertebrates gather ‘round; the grasshoppers and crickets chirping in with a chorus of ‘We shall not be moved’ while the earthworms and earwigs chant ‘Eas-eh! Eas-eh!’

The fighters face off before charging and locking antlers. With incredible strength a Stag Beetle can lift his opponent into the air, holding him there heroically before spectacularly body-slamming them down onto the stump.

We’re fortunate that the Horsham district is a hotspot for these Herculean heavyweights but sadly our Stag Beetles are on the ropes.

The loss of old trees from the countryside has had dramatic impacts on the survival of the beetles’ underground larvae and their numbers are declining. So, if you see a Stag Beetle we’d really like to hear about it. Send details and a photo to

By Michael Blencowe: Learning & Engagement Officer, Sussex Wildlife Trust

Sussex Wildlife Trust is an independent registered charity caring for wildlife and habitats throughout Sussex. Founded in 1961, we rely on the support of our members to help protect our rich natural heritage. Please consider supporting our work. As a member you will be invited to join Michael Blencowe on our regular wildlife walks and also enjoy free events, discounts on wildlife courses, Wildlife magazine and our guide book: Discovering Wildlife in Sussex.

It’s easy to join online at:

or T: 01273 497532.

Stag Beetles Derek Middleton Sussex Wildlife Trust
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