Lucanus cervus is the best-known species of stag beetle (family Lucanidae) in Western Europe, and is sometimes referred to simply as the stag beetle. In the UK, it is associated with urban gardens, but is more commonly found in forests in the rest of Europe. Forest management, in eliminating old trees and dead wood, eliminates at the same time the habitat and food of this species. Once quite common, the population of the L. cervus, along with that of other species of beetles which feed on dead wood, is in decline, and is now listed as a globally threatened/declining species.
Adults appear during late May to the beginning of August, being most active in the evenings. Females lay their eggs in a piece of decaying wood deep in the soil. Stag beetle larvae, which are blind and shaped like a letter "C", feed on rotting wood in a variety of places, tree stumps, old trees and shrubs, rotting fence posts, compost heaps, and leaf mould. The larvae have a cream-coloured, soft, transparent body with six orange legs, and an orange head which is very distinct from the very sharp brown pincers. They have combs in their legs which they use for communication (stridulation) with other larvae. The larvae go through several developmental stages (instars), taking 4 to 6 years to become pupae. The work of entomologist Charlie Morgan during the late 1970s discovered that the pupae of the stag beetle live in the soil for about 3 months, then emerge in summer to awkwardly fly off to mate. Adults only live for a few weeks, feeding on nectar and tree sap. Their slow, lumbering flight, usually at dusk, makes a distinctive low-pitched buzzing sound. The males fly more readily than the females. The modern Italian word for a toy kite cervo volante (and hence both the French cerf-volant and Spanish ciervo volante) may derive from the ancient amusement of flying the beetles on a length of thread.
The natural reaction of the beetle to an approaching large object is to remain motionless, making them a good photographic subject. Sexually dimorphic, the males have enlarged mandibles and are larger than the females. Although the male's mandibles seem threatening, they are too weak to be harmful. Nevertheless, females can inflict a painful bite. The resemblance of the male's mandibles to the horns of a stag, and their use in combat between males, much like with deer, gives the species its scientific and common names.
L. cervus is registered in the second appendix of the Habitats Directive of the European Union from 1992, which requires that member states set aside special areas of conservation. The species is also registered in the third appendix of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Berne convention) of 1982 and Schedule 5 of the UK's Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
List of subspecies
- L. c. cervus – males: 35–92 mm, females: 35–45 mm;
- L. c. judaicus – males: 50–100 mm, females: 40–50 mm;
Harvey, D.J., Gange, A.C., et al. (2011). Bionomics and distribution of the stag beetle, Lucanus cervus (L.) across Europe. Insect Conservation & Diversity 4, 23-38.
- Bernhard Klausnitzer: Die Hirschkäfer (Lucanidae). [Die Neue Brehm-Bücherei Bd. 551]. Westarp & Spektrum, Magdeburg, Heidelberg, Berlin und Oxford 1995, ISBN 3-89432-451-1
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- stagbeetle.info Research site of Royal Holloway, University of London  containing lots of information on the stag beetle as well as a monitoring form and information on current conservation schemes.
- Biology of the Stag Beetle, translated from the Spanish article "de lo poco conocido y lo mucho por conocer"
- Brief illustrated look at the stag beetle
- 3D model of Lucanus cervus