UK beetles: 17 of the most spectacular and beautiful
The most famous beetles in the UK are probably ladybirds. But did you know that there are over 4,000 beetle species to spot here?
Plenty are easy to identify. Read on to discover 17 of the most colourful and striking British beetles - including a particularly vibrant ladybird.
Urban areas, even cities, have more beetles than you'd think. 'There are more than 2,000 species of beetles known from the London area,' says Max Barclay, Senior Curator in Charge of the Museum's beetle collection.
'London is even a stronghold for the rare greater stag beetle, the largest beetle in Britain. It is a truly impressive insect, which looks like it is from the tropics.
'Wherever there are green spaces - such as graveyards, parks and gardens - lots of different beetles can be found.'
What is a beetle?
As a type of insect, beetles have six jointed legs, three main parts to their body - the head, thorax and abdomen - and an exoskeleton. They also have compound eyes and a pair of antennae.
Additional features distinguish this group from other insects, as Beulah Garner, Senior Curator of Beetles at the Museum, explains:
'What makes a beetle is its two pairs of wings. The hardened outer wings, called elytra, protect the flight wings underneath.'
So, it is fitting that the scientific name for beetle is 'Coleoptera' - coleo from the Greek for sheath, and ptera meaning wing.
Here are 17 of the most beautiful and standout UK beetles:
1. Rose chafer (Cetonia aurata)
The rose chafer beetle flies noisily from flower to flower on warm summer days. Its larvae live on decaying plant material like compost and rotting wood.
This jewel-like beetle is found from the Midlands down through southern Britain and is now common in London's outer suburbs.
Max says, 'The rose chafer is a large and beautiful beetle that people are likely to notice.
'It became very rare 100 years ago and has only recently become common again. You can see it in places like Wimbledon Common and Brompton Cemetery in London, and even on flowering trees in gardens and along streets.
'It is becoming much more common in urban areas all over the south of Britain.'
2. Rosemary beetle (Chrysolina americana)
Between May and October you can see this beetle on rosemary and other aromatic plants such as lavender, sage and thyme.
The rosemary beetle was first spotted in the UK in London in 1994 and quickly spread through much of the UK.
Native to southern Europe, the species probably arrived here on an imported rosemary plant. Some gardeners consider it a pest as the larvae and adults nibble a bit off rosemary or lavender leaves, but others appreciate it as a beautiful addition to their gardens.
3. Rainbow leaf beetle (Chrysolina cerealis)
Even more colourful is the rainbow leaf beetle, which lives on Welsh mountainsides. Very rare in the UK, it is now found only on Mount Snowdon. The beetles' larvae feed on the flowers and leaves of wild thyme that grow there. It is one of the few UK beetle species that has legal protection.
4. Twenty-two-spot ladybird (Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata)
There are around 50 species of ladybird in the UK and only three are yellow, including the 22-spot ladybird. It feeds on mildew on plants. This is unusual for ladybirds, as most munch on aphids and other tiny pests that feed on garden plants such as roses.
From April to August you can see this beetle in woods, grassland and urban settings such as towns and gardens. They are common in England and Wales.
There are two colour varieties - one has an entirely yellow background, the other is white at the front.
5. Wasp beetle (Clytus arietis)
This longhorn beetle looks and moves like a wasp darting around on logs and flowers. It is harmless though and mimics the common wasp to protect itself from predators.
Adult wasp beetles are excellent pollinators and can be seen from May to July on flowers in woods and hedgerows. The larvae live in dry, dead wood such as willow and birch.
This beetle is widespread in England and Wales, but scarcer in Scotland.
6. Green tiger beetle (Cicindela campestris)
The green tiger beetle is one of the fastest running insects in the UK. Some tiger beetles are known to reach speeds of nine kilometres per hour.
The 'tiger' in this beetle's name refers to its powerful jaws or mandibles, which it uses to catch small invertebrates. The larvae have them too, clamping them shut on any passing prey that strays too close to their burrow.
Common throughout Britain and Ireland, green tiger beetles prefer areas of sparse vegetation, living in heathland, grassland, brownfield sites and dunes.
7. Stag beetle (Lucanus cervus)
Also called the greater stag beetle, this is the UK's largest beetle. It is rare and found only in certain areas of southern Britain.
Stag beetle larvae spend four to six years feeding on rotting tree stumps and other decaying wood that is in contact with the ground, which is why it is so important to leave fallen timber and stumps.
'This beetle is rare and threatened throughout northern Europe, and the populations in the Thames Valley are some of the largest in the world,' says Max.
'You can see them on warm June evenings flying alongside wooded roads or just walking on the pavement, in places like Kew, Richmond, Barnes and Wimbledon. The beetles have been observed in the Museum's Wildlife Garden.
'Try to avoid stepping on wandering adults. Maybe move them into some vegetation, safe from cats, traffic and careless feet.
'The males have the big antlers, hence the name stag beetle, which they use to fight over the females. The males with the biggest antlers invariably win.'
The UK has three stag beetle species. The most common is the lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus), which has far smaller jaws.
8. Scarlet lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii)
Scarlet lily beetle adults and larvae eat lilies and fritillary flowers, so they are often considered pests by gardeners. This non-native species is now widespread in Britain and Ireland.
The reddish-orange, sausage-shaped eggs of scarlet lily beetles are laid on the undersides of leaves. The larvae that hatch are reddish-brown with black heads but tend to be hidden under their own black excrement, known as frass.
The adult beetles winter away from lily plants - in soil, leaf litter and other sheltered places. They emerge in late March and April where they search for their host plants.
9. Thick-legged flower beetle (Oedemera nobilis)
This eye-catching beetle has large bulges on the males' femora, or thighs, and is also known as the swollen-thighed beetle.
Thick-legged flower beetles can be seen from April to September in gardens, flower meadows and waste ground. They are widespread from The Wash and North Wales down to southern England.
Like many beetles, they are excellent pollinators - doing the job as they move from flower to flower feeding on the pollen of large open flowers like poppies, roses, cornflowers and ox-eye daisies.
10. Spotted longhorn beetle (Rutpela maculata)
Another beetle that looks a bit wasp-like, the spotted longhorn beetle is also a good pollinator. It can be seen nectar-feeding on the aromatic flowers of carrot, celery and parsley in the summer months.
The larvae live on deciduous trees such as oak, hazel, hornbeam and willow, usually in fallen dead wood.
The spotted longhorn beetle is common and widespread in England and Wales, but much less common further north.
11. Common sexton beetle (Nicrophorus vespilloides)
Found throughout Britain, the common sexton beetle is a carrion or burying beetle - it buries, and lives off, small carcasses. In fact, it can detect the scent of rotting flesh a mile away.
As carrion beetles eat decaying animal remains, they recycle nutrients back into the soil. They are used in forensic entomology to help determine time of death.
The parent beetles work together to create a nursery for their young in an underground chamber with a mammal or bird corpse. Then the female watches over the eggs and feeds the larvae with the partially digested carcass.
12. Acorn weevil (Curculio glandium)
The acorn weevil's most striking feature is its long snout, called a rostrum.
The female uses her longer rostrum to bore into the centre of an acorn where she lays her egg. The larva feeds on the acorn, eventually tunnelling out as an adult.
Acorn weevils live in oak woodland. They are quite common, particularly in the south of Britain. You may also find them on individual oak trees in hedgerows, parks and gardens.
13. Golden-bloomed grey longhorn (Agapanthia villosoviridescens)
The golden-bloomed grey longhorn has fantastic striped antennae. They are longer than its body, which is typical of longhorn beetles.
Golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetles live on a wide variety of plants. Adults feed on cow parsley, nettles and hogweed, while the larvae live and feed on plants like thistles.
The beetles can be seen April to August in damp meadows and hedgerows around central and eastern England. It has become much more common in recent years.
14. Tansy beetle (Chrysolina graminis)
The rare tansy beetle is totally dependent on the tansy plant, spending its whole life cycle on and around the plant.
This beautiful beetle is declining in the UK and is only found in North Yorkshire and Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire. Habitat loss is the most likely cause because once a tansy plant is removed, the beetle has to walk to find another - it rarely flies, even though it has working wings.
The more common mint beetle looks similar and is often misidentified as a tansy beetle.
15. False ladybird (Endomychus coccineus)
This beetle may look like a ladybird with its red and black markings, but it is not. It is less dome-shaped than ladybirds and has much longer antennae.
The false ladybird eats fungus and lives underneath the bark of dead or dying trees, especially beech and birch. It is found all over Britain, most often in the south.
16. Sulphur beetle (Cteniopus sulphureus)
Sulphur beetles' distinctive yellow colour makes them easy to spot on the flowers they live on, mainly in coastal areas in the southern half of Britain. Their favourite habitats are dry grassland and sand dunes.
See them on a sunny day between May and July feeding on the nectar and pollen of tiny flowers such as wild thyme and wild carrot. The larvae feed on decaying wood and plants.
17. Minotaur beetle (Typhaeus typhoeus)
Male minotaur beetles have three unmistakable bull-like horns. They use these to defend their nest and compete for females.
The minotaur beetle is a type of scarab beetle, belonging to the earth boring dung beetle group Geotrupidae. They drag animal droppings to their nests to feed their larvae, playing a vital role in recycling nutrients and waste.
Minotaur beetles are widespread, but scarce, across the heaths and moors of England and Wales. If you're lucky you may see one of these beetles in spring or autumn, but you're more likely to spot one of their burrow entrances - look out for a one centimetre hole near rabbit, sheep or deer dung.
Max adds, 'London's deer parks support dung beetles such as these.'
Help identifying UK beetles
You could use the iNaturalist app to identify wildlife you photograph and also contribute your findings to international scientific databases.
The flexible beetle
Even discounting pest species such as biscuit, furniture and carpet beetles that have found a niche for themselves in our homes, some beetles can thrive in urban areas. Max explains why there is such a variety around London:
'Because of the southerly position and the heat island effect - where urban areas are a few degrees warmer on average than the surrounding countryside - London boasts a surprising diversity of insects.
'And because of trade in plants - for gardens, etc - cities are often the first place where new species for the UK arrive, from countries like Italy and Spain.'
It's not just introduced or common species found here.
Max continues, ‘Some city parks, like Richmond Park in London, have lists of beetles that are of international importance. Many very rare ancient-woodland beetles can be found in Richmond's 500-plus-year-old oak trees. For example, the bright green oak jewel beetle (Agrilus biguttatus). It was very rare 20 years ago but is now spreading and easy to spot.
'Even more managed parks like Hyde Park have some rare species and some very uncommon ones have been found in the Museum's Wildlife Garden.
What do beetles eat?
Beetles have diverse diets. Some species thrive on various parts of plants, others on decaying organic material and some even feed on animal waste.
Beulah says, 'Beetles eat almost anything and this is what makes them so successful.
'Typically you will find different families of beetles feeding on: dung, fungi, detritus, other insects, other animals (such as decaying corpses), pollen, sap, plants, seeds and fruits.
The benefits of beetles
This diversity makes beetles beneficial to our planet in many ways.
'Beetles are nature's housekeepers,' says Beulah.
'Their presence in almost all ecosystems of the world ensures the healthy turnover of nutrients and waste. For example, the dung beetle's lifecycle is dependent on the availability of dung. Without them there would be more dung than humans could cope with.'
Meanwhile carrion beetles decompose organic matter like dead bodies.
In addition, as well as providing food for other animals such as birds, rodents and hedgehogs, some beetles are predators themselves and help control pest insects.
'Beetles are also important pollinators,' adds Beulah. 'Many species of plant are dependent on beetles.'