Buglife launches Scottish Oil Beetle Search as part of the Species on the Edge programme

Thursday 13th April 2023

Buglife launches its citizen science project the Scottish Oil Beetle Search.  As part of the new partnership programme, Species on the Edge, members of the public are asked to look out for these amazing beetles and record any sightings.

As part of the Species on the Edge programme launch within the Outer Hebrides, Buglife is running a free oil beetle workshop on Tuesday 25th April 2023 from 10:30-13:30 at North Uist Agricultural Showground.  This event is being run in partnership with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and RSPB Scotland, everyone is welcome.  Details can be found on the Buglife website.

Species on the Edge is an ambitious four-year programme for species recovery in Scotland that aims to take action on over 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, The 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 (Meloe brevicollis), which has only been found in a handful of locations within Scotland – the Isles of Coll and Islay (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.

Sally Morris, Buglife Conservation Officer explains “We need help to find other populations of these amazing beetles. Until early 2021, it was thought Short-necked Oil Beetles were only found on a single island in the Inner Hebrides, and now two more populations have been discovered – why not more? 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 the state of oil beetles within Scotland.

Short-necked Oil Beetle (Meloe brevicollis) triungulins © John Walters
Short-necked Oil Beetle (Meloe brevicollis) triungulins © John Walters

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.  The following year, it emerges 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 two are found in Scotland, these are the 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.  An identification guide can be found here.

More details can be found at the following link: 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 likely to be found.

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]