The stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) has to be the scariest of all the insect species commonly found in the United Kingdom! Those large pincers look as though they could do some serious damage to you but, in fact, there is no need for alarm, they are quite harmless to human-kind. Sadly, though, this formidable appearance makes them very unattractive insects and they are prone to being stamped on by people who think they are harmful, especially where young children are about. Those fearsome 'horn's, it seems, are largely ornamental, there to impress female beetles. They are extensions of the mandibles but are so large that the beetle does not have strong enough jaw muscles to use them in anger.
The stag beetle is largely nocturnal and so are not actually encountered that often. They are scarab beetles and are generally vegetarian feeding on rotting vegetable matter. The larvae live in rotting tree stumps and fallen branches and, again, are rarely seen unless you go looking for them.
The sandy areas of Poole and Bournemouth are a strong hold of this spectacular species and if you live in that area and find one in your garden or local park please do not be frightened of it and allow it to go about its business.
[Photograph: George Small]