Extinct oil beetle discovery takes species numbers from fab four to famous five

Tuesday 16th July 2013

A beetle hotspot on the South Devon coast has re-written the record books for the second time in six years with the discovery of an oil beetle which was last seen in 1906 and thought to have been extinct for over one hundred years.

Friday 14th December 2012

Before its rediscovery, the Mediterranean oil beetle (Meloe mediterraneus) had been found in the South East of England in Essex and Kent. The beetle was last recorded in Kent in 1906, and had not been seen since, until rediscovered this autumn.

Local naturalist John Walters found the oil beetle on National Trust land between Bolt Head and Bolt Tail on the beautiful south Devon coast, while carrying out a study for the charity Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust.

Leading beetle expert, Darren Mann of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History confirmed the discovery making this the first record in the UK for over 100 years, and the first ever for South West England.

John Walters said "The 2 to 3 centimetre long matt-black beetle resembles the rare Rugged oil beetle, but the beetles I found were much larger and their larvae were a different colour. I investigated further and was amazed to find that they were a ‘long lost' species!"

Andrew Whitehouse, Buglife's South West Manager said, "The rediscovery of this beetle is great news, bringing the total number of oil beetles species in the UK up to five.

However all of our oil beetle species remain under threat. The loss of wildflower-rich habitats and the decline in wild bee populations, upon which these beetles depend, are the main threats to oil beetles in the UK.

Buglife is working to better understand the needs of oil beetles and how best to conserve them"

Andy Foster, Biological Survey Team Leader at the National Trust, said: "This is remarkable news, following the discovery of the rare Short-necked oil beetle from the same area of south Devon only a few years ago, and demonstrates the value of detailed studies which can lead to such unexpected results.

One can't help feeling there are other colonies out there just waiting to be found – it's crucial that we understand where these threatened species survive and understand more about their habitat requirements."

Buglife's national oil beetle conservation project is a partnership project with the National Trust and Oxford University Museum of Natural History and is funded through Natural England's Species Recovery programme.