Meloe proscarabaeus – The Black Oil Beetle (perhaps)

P1010538 (1024x769)This is an oil beetle, possibly the black oil beetle Meloe proscarabaeus but I can’t be sure.  Until last week I didn’t even know they existed, but the discovery of this little beauty has prompted me to delve into the private life of him/her (I haven’t probed that deep) and his/her relatives.  It is another one of our native species that is under threat with three of the eight species already extinct and the remaining five struggling. The oil beetle has an interesting and somewhat sinister life-cycle.  The female digs a burrow and lays hundreds of eggs which hatch out into larva known as triungulins (remember that word it is bound to crop up in the pub quiz). These cute little louse like babies then climb up into a flower (the larva’s nursery of choice is either dandelion or lesser celandine of which we have plenty) where they wait for a solitary mining bee to pop along.  Whilst the bee is innocently feeding the triungulin hops on its back, attached by well designed foot hooks (triungulin comes from the Latin meaning three toenails), hitching a free ride back to the bees home and all the pollen, nectar and bee eggs a larva could possibly eat.  Later it emerges as an adult and the cycle continues.  Well it would do if we stopped destroying their habitats.  Although this particular specimen was found in the bottom garden we have a tennis court lawn full of miner bees, so there plenty are to go around.  Any creature with antennae as wonderful as these deserves a little protection, don’t you think?

Someone else with a slightly sinister side and a felt tipped finger is holding the oily one.  I hope he didn’t suffer after his fine presentation of the beast, as something else I discovered is that they can produce a poisonous chemical from their joints (the “oil” in their common name) when they are disturbed which may cause blistering.   He looks pretty chilled out to me, I’m sure there was no damage caused ……

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9 responses to “Meloe proscarabaeus – The Black Oil Beetle (perhaps)

  1. diversifolius

    So interesting! and I understand they don’t harm the bees, just enjoying the ‘free’ meals? I like the antennae – strings of black pearls.

    • They are great, SB told me today he had seen one in the top garden that had a huge abdomen. Must be a pregnant female. Will be taking a closer look at our dandelions in the future!

  2. So, the trick is to hold the beetle without disturbing it? That takes a steady hand! I don’t know about the mining bees, but we’ve certainly got the dandelion part of the habitat, which is ironic because I’ve read that the greatest enemy of bees is the lawn.

  3. Fascinating. I shall be looking out for them now. And a new word! I love new words, although I don’t know how I can drop ‘triungulin’ into a conversation. But you never know, next time somebody mentions oil beetles…

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