Buglife launches Scottish Oil Beetle Hunt for 2024 as part of the Species on the Edge programme

Thursday 4th April 2024

Buglife’s citizen science project, the Scottish Oil Beetle Hunt, needs your help. As part of the partnership programme, Species on the Edge, members of the public are asked to look out for these amazing beetles and record any sightings.

Scottish records of oil beetles on iRecord more than doubled last year due to the combined effort of the Scottish Oil Beetle Hunt and surveying carried out by the Species on the Edge team. Survey work for Short-necked Oil Beetle in particular yielded over 100 records of individual beetles, with many new sites discovered for the species. The Black Oil Beetle was also confirmed from Scotland, following doubt about previous records due to issues with misidentification.

In 2023, Short-necked Oil Beetle were found on Tiree for the first time by Ranger Hayley Douglas. Long thought to be present, this discovery is the latest new island site for the species, following on from populations found in North Uist in 2022, and Barra and Islay in 2021.

Species on the Edge is an ambitious four-year programme for species recovery in Scotland that aims to take action for 37 declining and threatened species across Scotland’s coasts and islands. It is a partnership programme of eight organisations, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The partnership consists of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, NatureScot, Plantlife and RSPB Scotland.

One of these threatened species is the Short-necked Oil Beetle, which has only been found in a handful of locations within Scotland – the Isles of Coll, Islay and Tiree (Inner Hebrides), as well as Uist and Barra (Outer Hebrides). Classed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, this species is at high risk of extinction and therefore it’s imperative that we learn more about this amazing beetle to help improve its fortunes.

Oil beetles are eye-catching, charismatic beetles that are so-called because they exude a yellowish oily substance from their leg joints when threatened. They have been described as looking like they’re wearing an ill-fitting waistcoat; the ‘waistcoat’ being the short wing cases that do not fully cover the beetle’s abdomen.

Oil beetles are under threat. Populations have declined due to the loss of flower-rich habitats owing to changes in countryside management. As oil beetles are nest parasites of solitary bees, declines in populations of wild bees has worsened their fortunes further as they depend on them for survival. Scotland has fewer oil beetle records than both England and Wales, so it’s possible that oil beetles are under recorded in Scotland. To get a better understanding of their current distribution in Scotland, it’s important we keep a look at and hear about all sightings of oil beetles.

Sally Morris, Buglife Conservation Officer, explains: “Last year was great for oil beetles in Scotland, but we’re still far behind England and Wales for records – it’s time we catch up! Have you ever seen a shiny black beetle that may be an oil beetle? Please send us a photo and help us to learn more about these amazing beetles within Scotland.”

Oil beetles have an amazing life cycle, intricately linked to that of solitary bees. After hatching, oil beetle larvae (known as triungulins) make their way onto a flower head where they lie in wait for a solitary bee. Using specialised hooks on their feet, they attach themselves to the back of a visiting female bee and when the bee returns to its underground nest, the triungulin disembarks and continues its development underground, eating through the bee’s stores of pollen and nectar. Depending on species, they then emerge in the same or following year, as an adult oil beetle ready to start the life cycle all over again.

There are five species of oil beetle in the UK, only three are found in Scotland, these are the Black Oil Beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus), Violet Oil Beetle (Meloe violaceus) and Short-necked Oil Beetle (Meloe brevicollis). They are large, shiny black beetles, often with a slight blue or green tinge to their colouring that can be seen in wildflower-rich grasslands, heathland, and coastal areas from March to June. They are often seen crossing footpaths due to the availability of compact bare ground in which they can burrow.

This survey is in partnership with the National Oil Beetle Recording scheme, launched in 2021. This scheme was established to help us understand more about oil beetle abundance, distribution and ecology in the UK. No prior knowledge is needed to take part, anyone and everyone is encouraged to submit records using the iRecord app (with multiple photos if possible), or to send in details via email. Please let us know what you find on social media using the hashtag #OilBeetleHunt! An identification guide can be found here.

More details can be found at the link below: Oil Beetle Recording Scheme | UK Beetle Recording (coleoptera.org.uk)

Buglife welcomes any records, however they are particularly interested in records from Argyll and the Hebrides as these are the locations where Short-necked Oil Beetles are most likely to be found.

The Species on the Edge programme is also asking for volunteers to help search for Short-necked Oil Beetles in likely locations in the Hebrides. If you have a spare couple of hours from April – June and want to search for this amazing beetle in sand dunes and machair grassland near you, please contact [email protected]. All training and support are provided, and no experience is necessary.

Thanks to National Lottery players, Species on the Edge is supporting conservation work and engaging with local communities around the coast and islands of Scotland. For more information on how to get involved in other Species on the Edge work please contact our Conservation Team via [email protected].

For more information, please visit www.speciesontheedge.co.uk.

Main Image Credit: Short-necked Oil Beetle © Peadar O’Connell