Photo by Melody

What's that Bug? The Elephant Stag Beetle; Lucanus elaphus

By Melody Rose (melodyMay 11, 2013

Gardeners often encounter unique and colorful insects in their gardens. The trick is to know which ones are friends and which ones are foes. This series of articles will help identify some of the most unusual ones and give you a peek into their lives

Gardening picture

The insect world is teeming with all sorts of strange and wonderful creatures. From the miracle of the Monarch butterfly that migrates to Mexico each autumn, to the fireflies that light up summer evenings with their special flashing glow, we all have a favorite.

Some are more common than others and many are rarely seen. The Elephant Stag Beetle, Lucanus elaphus is one of those that gardeners may only see on occasion, or not at all. It is a shy insect that is primarily nocturnal and often, when we chance upon one it is flipped on its back under a street light.

The males appear fierce and dangerous with their huge mandibles that are often as long as their body, but the weapons are only used in combat with other males to win the favor of a female. These beetles are very large, 1.5 to 2" (3 to 5cm), but aren't aggressive to humans. They may rear up and display their ‘pinchers' if disturbed, but it is just a bluff. They have no venom or poison sting and are often quite docile to handle. They are often called ‘Pinch Bugs' because of those powerful jaws. Females appear similar in shape, but their mandibles are much shorter, so they might be confused for a different species of insect.

ImageThe common name ‘Elephant Stag Beetle' is simply an incorrect translation of its Latin name. The species name ‘elaphus' means ‘stag' in Latin, not elephant, but over the years, unscientific people misinterpreted the word and the name stuck. This hard-shelled beetle is part of the Scarabaeoidea Superfamily which includes scarabs and dung beetles.

ImageThe adult female lays her eggs in and around dead trees and logs and the larvae when hatched, feed upon the decaying wood. They are a vital part of the forest ecosystem and are not present in enough numbers to be considered a pest insect. Not much is known about the feeding habits of the adults, but it is speculated that they may use aphid honeydew and plant juices for food.  They are good climbers and often prefer that over flying. While they can fly, they do so awkwardly and without much grace. Adults can live for as much as two years and are found throughout most of eastern North America. There are several species found world-wide and just about every continent has a cousin of Lucanus elaphus.

Enjoy these unique creatures in your garden and remember that they are a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
Find this bug and others in our BugFiles database.

  About Melody Rose  
Melody RoseI come from a long line of Kentuckians who love the Good Earth. I love to learn about every living thing, and love to share what I've learned. Photography is one of my passions, and all of the images in my articles are my own, except where credited.

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