Natural England - ‘Extinct’ oil beetle alive and well on the southwest coast

‘Extinct’ oil beetle alive and well on the southwest coast

17 December 2012

A beetle hotspot on the South Devon coast has re-written the record books for the second time in six years with the discovery of an oil beetle last seen in 1906 and thought to have been extinct for over one hundred years.

Oil beetle (Meloe mediterraneus) © John Walters/Buglife
Oil beetle (Meloe mediterraneus) © John Walters/Buglife

Before its rediscovery, the Mediterranean oil beetle (Meloe mediterraneus) had been found in Essex and Kent.  The beetle was last recorded in Kent in 1906, and had not been seen since, until rediscovered this autumn.

Local naturalist John Walters found the oil beetle while carrying out a study for Buglife’s oil beetle conservation project, which is funded through Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme.  It was found on National Trust land between Bolt Head and Bolt Tail on the beautiful south Devon coast.  John’s ID was confirmed by leading beetle expert, Darren Mann of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, making this the first record in the UK for over 100 years. 

John Walters said “The 2 to 3 centimetre long matt-black beetle resembles the rare rugged oil beetle, but the beetles I found were much larger and their larvae were a different colour.  I investigated further and was amazed to find that they were a ‘long lost’ species!”

Oil beetles have one of the most extraordinary life cycles of any British insect - they are nest parasites of solitary mining bees. Female oil beetles dig nest burrows in the ground, in to which they lay hundreds of eggs. Once hatched, the louse-like larvae climb up on to flowers and lie in wait for a suitable bee, clinging with hooked feet to bees collecting pollen for their own nests. Once in a bee’s nest the larva drops off and eats the bee’s eggs and the store of pollen and nectar.  The larva develops in the bee burrow until it emerges as an oil beetle ready to mate and start the whole cycle again.

Natural England’s Landscape and Biodiversity Director, Maddy Jago said: “We’re delighted to have supported our partners in funding the project that has led to this remarkable discovery. Oil beetles are some of our most unusual insects and it’s great to know that we can officially claim this species back after an absence of over a century.”

Buglife’s national oil beetle conservation project is a partnership project with the National Trust and Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Natural England.  To download a free oil beetle identification chart and report your oil beetle sightings visit the Buglife websiteexternal link.