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Posted by: Michael Williams on 29/10/2013

Five years ago this month, on an otherwise mundane day in the ecology lab at the University of Bristol identifying money spiders, smaller ground beetles and other invertebrates, I was informed by two undergraduates that they had found three “fat” black beetles in their pitfall traps in Bristol. Several species came to mind, including churchyard beetles, bloody-nosed beetles and some of the larger ground beetles such as the violet ground beetle. Oil beetles did not cross my mind, as the two most common species (black oil beetle and violet oil beetle) are only found in late spring and early summer and are the only species with recent records from this part of the country. The remaining species on the British list are either very rare or thought to be extinct in this country.

So imagine my surprise when I was presented with three fresh specimens of oil beetle caught near Bristol – in autumn! The first species that came to mind was the rugged oil beetle (Meloe rugosus), and fortunately the most recent identification work was close at hand. Rugged oil beetles are found from September to April and the only other species that can be found in the autumn is the even rarer Mediterranean oil beetle (Meloe mediterraneus), which is very similar to the rugged oil beetle, and was thought to be extinct in Britain until recently. The specimens were sent to Cardiff for confirmation, and my initial identification was found to be correct. One of the specimens now resides in my collection, alongside my other oil beetle specimens, and another was given to the Bristol Museum. Prior to this, the only other specimens known from the region were found in Bath, in 1976 and 1988. Recently I have learned that they have been sighted again in the same area this year.

The best place to find oil beetles is short grassland with lots of wildflowers, with patches of bare ground. Footpaths adjacent to chalk or limestone grassland and coastal grassland are where I tend to come across them most of the time. In order to conserve oil beetles, short grassland and bare earth with an abundance of flowers is necessary for their host species – ground-nesting solitary bees. Management of scrub and grazing are key to preserving their habitats.

Buglife are encouraging people to send them their oil beetle records. To submit a record, find out more and to download their identification guide, visit

Categories: Ecological Consulting
Tags: invertebrate specialists | Invertebrate survey | Invertebrate Surveys
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