Several days ago, while working on a walkway project around the cottage, I flipped over a slab of cut limestone and found this rather formidable-looking fellow happily ensconced underneath. I expect we were each momentarily nonplused by the sudden sight of the other—though any temporary confusion was quickly supplanted by our respective quick actions…the big beetle began a clambering retreat, whereupon I promptly reached down and plucked him up, temporarily thwarting his escape.
At that point, much to the captured bug’s displeasure, I took a moment to better examine my prize.
The beetle was almost two inches long and nearly as broad as my thumb. When I placed him on the top of the flipped-over stone, he reared up, spreading his sharp-tipped mandibles wide like a steel trap, and looked ready and willing to fight, capable of holding his own. I had to chuckle at his menacing-bug chutzpah!
What I’d caught myself was a fine example of a male stag beetle—a reddish-brown stag beetle, to be more precise, Lucanus capreolu. The second largest species of stag beetle in Ohio; only the aptly-named elephant stag beetle is larger.
Some texts alternately list this as a common stag beetle, or for obvious reasons, a pinching beetle. The texts also state that in spite of the dangerous-looking mandibles, any delivered nip to, say, a fingertip, is mild, not at all painful. Uh-huh. I suspect too many days spent prattling about a lab with all manner of weird bugs for company might turn an otherwise perfectly decent entomologist into something of a practical joker, and have so far avoided personal research in verifying this no-pain claim. You, however, may believe those researchers and test your faith by offering up whatever body part you wish. Let me know how it goes…
Stag beetles are so named because the large, opposing vice-grip-like mandibles are reminiscent of the antlers on deer or stags. Like deer, male stag beetles also employ their “antlers” as weapons when fighting other males for mating privileges. Incidentally, the mandibles on female stag beetles are much smaller.
Stag beetles are slow-moving herbivores. They’re believed to feed on tree sap and perhaps aphid “honey-dew,” as well as leaves, though not much is actually known about the adult’s feeding habits. They are not harmful to plants or people (not counting how that fingertip in the mandibles might feel) and are more common than you might think, though are mostly seen at night after being attracted to some sort of light. Captive stag beetles—they can be kept as “pets” and can live a couple of years—are happy sipping sugar water like you’d use to fill a hummingbird feeder.
After a brief photo session I allowed my beetle to amble his own way and find a new hideout. But you might as well be forewarned…making his portrait has set me off on a phase of bug photography that has me collecting images almost every day. No doubt we’ll have another insect post in the near future…but, I promise, no spiders; I do have some restraint.