Oil Beetle Hunt

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.

As nest parasites of wild bees, oil beetles have fascinating life-cycles. Such highly specialised life-cycles, however, make them particularly vulnerable to environmental change. Declines in the quality and quantity of wild bee habitat, particularly wildflower-rich grasslands, has contributed to a decline in wild bees and along with them, oil beetles. Three of the UK’s oil beetles are now extinct, and the remaining five species have suffered drastic declines in their distributions due to changes in the way our countryside is managed.

The oil beetle species recovery programme was launched in 2009 with the aim to conserve the UK’s oil beetles by improving our understanding of their distribution and ecology, and taking practical action to enhance sites for oil beetles and wild bees. Co-ordinated by Buglife, in partnership with the National Trust and Oxford University Museum of Natural History, citizen scientists were asked to look out for oil beetles and to submit records of their sightings as part of a national Oil Beetle Survey. An oil beetle identification guide was published to help with identification. This survey has helped to raise public awareness of these fascinating creatures and their ecology and habitat requirements. This has coincided with a significant increase in oil beetle sightings across the UK, generating new data to allow us to assess the distribution (and health) of oil beetles populations and deliver conservation action on the ground.

Through the species recovery programme we were also able to undertake studies into the ecology of oil beetles – to better understand their lives. As a result we were able to publish habitat management guidelines for oil beetles.

Though our Oil Beetle Survey has now ended, a National Oil Beetle Recording Scheme has recently been established to continue to generate records of these beetles to help us to understand more about their abundance, distribution and ecology in the UK. If you see an oil beetle, please submit details of your sighting(s) to the recording scheme – further information, including a recording form, can be found here. You can use our oil beetle identification guide to help with identification – this guide is also available in Welsh.

Buglife continues to promote the conservation of oil beetles in the UK. Future conservation work for the rare Short-necked oil beetle (Meloe brevicollis) in currently being planned in Scotland and Wales through the ‘Species on the Edge’ and ‘Natur am Byth’ projects respectively.

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Oil Beetle Identification

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