Stag beetle

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Stag beetle
Temporal range: Middle Jurassic–Recent
Golden stag beetle.jpg
Male Lamprima aurata
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Suborder: Polyphaga
Infraorder: Scarabaeiformia
Superfamily: Scarabaeoidea
Family: Lucanidae
Latreille, 1804


Stag beetles are a family of about 1,200 species of beetles in the family Lucanidae, currently classified in four subfamilies.[1] Some species grow to over 12 centimetres (4+12 inches), but most to about 5 cm (2 in).


Dorcus curvidens male (left) and female (right)
Paralissotes sp. illustrated by Des Helmore

The English name is derived from the large and distinctive mandibles found on the males of most species, which resemble the antlers of stags.

A well-known species in much of Europe is Lucanus cervus, referred to in some European countries (including the United Kingdom) as the stag beetle; it is the largest terrestrial insect in Europe. Pliny the Elder noted that Nigidius called the beetle lucanus after the Italian region of Lucania where they were used as amulets. The scientific name of Lucanus cervus adds cervus, deer.

Male stag beetles are known for their over size mandibles used to wrestle each other for favoured mating sites in a way that parallels the way stags fight over females. Fights may also be over food, such as tree sap and decaying fruits. Despite their often fearsome appearance, they are not normally aggressive to humans. During a battle the main objective is to dislodge its opponents tarsal claws with its mandible, thus disrupting their balance. Due to its mandibles capable of exceeding its own body size it does come with a downside. Affecting its movability of running due to its disproportional body, because of this they normally fly to their destination.[2]

Female stag beetles are usually smaller than the males, with smaller mandibles that are much more powerful than the males'.[3] As larvae, females are distinguished by their cream-coloured, fat ovaries visible through the skin around two-thirds of the way down their back.

The larvae feed for several years on rotting wood, growing through three larval stages until eventually pupating inside a pupal cell constructed from surrounding wood pieces and soil particles. In the final larval stage, "L3", the surviving grubs of larger species, such as Prosopocoilus giraffa, may be the size of a human finger.

In the New Forest of England, the Stag-beetle by the rustics is called the Devil’s Imp, and was formerly believed to be sent to do some evil to the corn; and woe be to this unfortunate insect when met by these superstitious foresters, for it is immediately stoned to death. A writer, in the Notes and Queries, stated that he saw one of these insects actually thus destroyed.[4] They, along with rhinoceros beetles, are often bought as pets in South Korea and Japan.[5][6]


The oldest known fossil of the group is Juraesalus from the late Middle Jurassic (Callovian) Daohugou Beds of Inner Mongolia, China. While initially interpreted as a member of Aesalinae, it was later interpreted to be a basal member of the family.[7]

Antler allometry[edit]

Antler allometry in Prosopocoilus savagei

The Lucanidae have (male-only) antlers. Their size often varies among individuals. Such variation is termed a scaling relationship or static allometry. Environmental conditions of development affect antler size, but genetic factors are active.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Smith, A.B.T. (2006). A review of the family-group names for the superfamily Scarabaeoidea (Coleoptera) with corrections to nomenclature and a current classification. The Coleopterists Bulletin 60:144–204.
  2. ^ : Goyens J, Van Wassenbergh S, Dirckx J, Aerts P. 2015 Cost of flight and the evolution of stag beetle weaponry. J. R. Soc. Interface 12: 20150222.
  3. ^ "How to help stag beetles" (PDF). London Wildlife Trust. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 2, 2017. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "[남상호 자연 다큐/곤충 세계 여행④]곤충도 '황금알'을 낳는다". 시사저널 (in Korean). 2001-09-28. Retrieved 2020-07-26.
  6. ^ Lombardi, Linda (26 May 2014). "How to Care for Your Beetle". Archived from the original on 6 March 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  7. ^ Kim, Sang Il; Farrell, Brian D. (May 2015). "Phylogeny of world stag beetles (Coleoptera: Lucanidae) reveals a Gondwanan origin of Darwin's stag beetle". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 86: 35–48. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.02.015. PMID 25732069.

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