Giant stag beetle found in region’s mature forests

Published 5:32 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2024

By John Bunch

Contributing writer

Back in 2018 my Master Naturalist chapter, Historic Southside, had been invited by the Pocahontas Chapter to the Pocahontas State Park to see and hear about the bat houses that they had installed and were monitoring. 

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At one point while we were in an open covered enclosure, someone noticed a giant stag beetle caught up in cobwebs. A few phone pictures were taken by a couple of people, the beetle was cleaned off and released back into the woods. 

I didn’t have a good camera with me at the time and have wanted to see another one ever since. 

Fast forward to the middle of June this summer, my neighbor called to say that there was one on his porch screen. He put it in a jar until I could get over there the next morning for some photos. 

This male beetle came to life once out of the jar, and with all its movement, made getting good photos rather challenging. He did finally settle down enough for me to get the photos I wanted. Following that we let him go back to his life in the woods. 

So with these beetles, it’s the males that sport those large antler-like mandibles. My insect field guides tell me that there are about 30 species of stag beetles in North America with this one being the largest coming in at a little more than 2-inches long. 

This species, lucanus elaphus, can be found living in forests with older more mature trees in Virginia and North Carolina and reaching west to Oklahoma. 

Following mating, females lay eggs in crevices in the bark of rotting oak logs and stumps. The larvae feed on decaying wood for several years before pupating into the adults. 

The adults only live for about one to three months though and are known to feed on leaking tree sap. 

If you live in a wooded area containing older oaks with some decaying wood and stumps, there’s a good chance that these beetles are there. 

The adults will come to porch lights, much like moths, so it’s possible they can be found in that manner. 

There is something here that I’d like to bring up, the new LED bulbs that are now becoming popular due to their low energy consumption and long life, shine in wavelengths that aren’t as attractive to many insects. If you use these bulbs, you may have noticed there are fewer insects showing up at your porch at night.

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