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Oil Beetle Hunt

There are five species of oil beetles in the UK, the Black oil beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus), the Violet oil beetle (Meloe violaceus), the Short-necked oil beetle (Meloe brevicollis), the Rugged oil beetle (Meloe rugosus) and the Mediterranean oil beetle (Meloe mediterraneus). The first three can be found in the spring and we need your help to monitor their distribution to aid our conservation work.

Oil beetles are conspicuous, charismatic insects which are often encountered when out walking and enjoying the countryside. Their habit of seeking out bare compacted earth in which to dig nest burrows means that they are frequently seen on footpaths. The best time of year to look for oil beetles is March to June.

Please keep a look out for these beetles when walking in meadows, grasslands and open woodlands and let us know if you find them by submitting your sighting records and uploading your photos. Your records can make a real difference to our oil beetle conservation work.

If you need help to identify the oil beetles you find, you can download the oil beetle identification guide.

Oil beetles are incredible insects, but they are under threat. Three of Britain’s native oil beetles are thought to be extinct, and the remaining five species have suffered drastic declines due to the changes in the way our countryside is managed.

oil beetle hunting (c) Buglife

As well as taking part in our oil beetle hunt please explore our webpages for more information on oil beetle conservation.

More information on the distribution of oil beetles is needed to allow us take effective conservation action. By sending us your oil beetle records you are playing an important part in the conservation of these magnificent insects. You can use the downloadable recording sheet to keep track of important information while your out hunting.

Oil beetles species recovery programme
Buglife are working in partnership with the National Trust and Oxford University Museum of Natural History on the oil beetle species recovery programme. The project is supported by Natural England.
Our aim is to conserve the UK’s oil beetles through improving our understanding of their distribution and ecology, and taking practical action to enhance sites for oil beetles and wild bees.

With support from our partners and people like you we hope to:

  • Gather new data to assess the distribution of oil beetles in the UK, and the health of oil beetle populations, through our National oil beetle survey.
  • Undertake research to better understand oil beetle ecology and habitat requirements.
  • Provide habitat management advice to protect and enhance sites for oil beetles, wild bees and wildflowers.
  • Undertake practical management on selected sites.

Top tips for oil beetle hunting

How to look

You can either go out especially to look for oil beetles or you can keep your eyes peeled for oil beetles on all of your countryside walks and travels. Oil beetles are large, shiny, black and slow moving so they can be easy to spot.

Buglife Conservation Officer Andrew Whitehouse says: "Scan the footpath as you walk along and pay attention to the path edge. Oil beetles are often found near patches of spring flowers such as celandine and near to nesting mining bees - so look for flowers and buzzing!"

Where to look

Good places to look include bare ground near footpaths (as this is where they dig nest burrows), wildflower-rich grasslands, woodland edges and heathland.

Oil beetle are fascinating. Did you know that they depend on bees for their life cycle? As strange as it sounds looking for bees could lead you to an oil beetle. Look for wildflower areas or sandy soils where solitary bees may nest – these are hotspots for oil beetles.

When to look

The best time of year to look out for oil beetles in March to June. Most insects are more active on warm sunny days so bear this in mind before you head out on the hunt for oil beetles.

Getting close to an oil beetle

Buglife asks you not to disturb oil beetles. Although they are gentle creatures they can extrude a foul oil based liquid from their knee joints that may cause irritation. Remember oil beetles are under threat so if you do take a closer look be gentle and put the beetle back where you found it.

Taking photos of oil beetles

We would like to use your photos to identify the species of oil beetle that you have found. Here are some tips for taking photos of oil beetles:

  • please try and take pictures as close as you can get to the beetle (use the macro setting on your camera if you have it), and make sure the beetle is in focus!

  • one of the best identification features of oil beetles can be found at the base of the thorax (the middle bit of the beetle's body) - please try and focus on this part of the beetle from the top down.

  • taking a beetle photo in shade rather than direct sunlight can help us to see the different parts of the beetle clearly.

  • if your beetle won't stay still try giving it some celandine flowers to eat - it might stop for a snack!

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