British beetle guide: where to see and how to identify

From the striking rose chafer to the deceptive wasp beetle, beetles are a fascinating group of insects found widely throughout the UK. Here is our expert British beetle guide, including where to see and how to identify.

Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus) Two males fighting, West Sussex, England. UK

Here is our guide to British beetle species, including where to see and how to identify.

How many species are there in the UK?

With over 4,000 species in the British Isles, mostly very small, beetles are often portrayed as being a ‘difficult’ group, the preserve of experts, but many are large and brightly coloured and easy to identify in the field. Around 40% of the UK’s insects species are beetles.

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Many British beetles, such as this rose chafer, are brightly coloured ©Getty

Confirmations can always be sought at the ‘I spot nature‘ identification site where your uploaded photos (of beetles, and indeed any organism) are regularly checked by experts and enthusiasts.

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What do beetles eat?

British beetle species have a varied diet. Some species, such as the lesser stag beetle like to eat rotting wood, while the orange and black sexton beetle, favour decaying animals to lay their larvae.

Meanwhile, the dor beetle eats faeces from animals. Many other species prefer the pollen and nectar from plants.


British beetle species to spot

Green tiger beetle

Isolated tiger beetle macro

With long legs and sharp jaws, this fearsome predator takes short flying leaps to attack prey or escape. It is very active on patches of sparsely vegetated or bare sandy or chalky soil.

Cockchafer

Common Cockchafer, or Maybug (Melolontha melolontha) on white background Monmouthshire, Wales, UK, April. Focus-stacked image.
Mostly nocturnal, it is also called May-bug for its appearance in spring. Old reports note clouds of cockchafers banging on to lit windows or street lamps. Larvae are fat, pale, C-shaped maggots in the soil, feeding on grass.

Rose chafer

Cetonia aurata (rose chafer) isolated on a white background.

This living jewel is metallic green all over. Unlike most beetles, it flies with its wing-cases closed and has a special notch at the side to accommodate its membraneous flight wings. It often sits on flowers.

Twenty-two-spot ladybird

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The brightest lemon-yellow of any British beetle, this always has 22 round jet-black spots on its cheerful wing cases. A mildew feeder, it grazes on mould and fungal hyphae.

Devil’s coach-horse

BHF8HJ Devil's Coach Horse beetle (Staphylinus olens). Live insect photographed against a white background on a portable studio.

Britain’s largest rove beetle is a  gothic monstrosity found under logs and stones. Its short wing-cases expose a flexible hind body – it will rear up and wave its large jaws menacingly, and it can nip.

Red-headed cardinal beetle

E45BD6 Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis) captive, UK

It is named for its papal colour scheme, which warns predators not to eat it as it contains poisons (harmless to pick up). Flat larvae, with two-pronged tail, feed under logs and bark.

Green tortoise beetle

ACM3W8 Green Tortoise Beetle Cassida viridis from above on white background

Flattened and flanged, it clamps down on to its water-mint food-plant leaf if disturbed. The larvae keep hold of their dry excrement and moulted skins to make a predator-avoiding blob-parasol on their tail end.

Wasp beetle

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This has deceptively wasp-like colours, plus striking red legs, jerky movements and hawking flight. Larvae feed in dead wood; adults are often seen in sunshine running on stacked logs, or buzzing over bramble flowers.

Stag beetle

Male black Stag Beetle isolated on white background.

The UK’s largest beetle spends most of its life out of view. The larva feeds on dead wood below ground for five years before emerging as an adult. Only the male possesses the ‘antlers’, which are infact enlarged jaws. The stag beetle has declined due to a loss of dead wood habitat.

Bloody nosed beetle

Macro of a large flightless bloody nosed beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa) on a plantain (Plantago lanceolata) flower spike.

This handsome black beetle is flightless and can be seen walking along the ground or in low vegetation in April. It’s often found in coastal areas and on grasslands in the south of the UK. The beetle’s name comes from its defence strategy of exuding bright red fluid from its mouth when threatened.

Dor beetle

Dor Beetle (Dung Beetle) showing off its metallic carapace

This large beetle has a distinctive black domed body that shines blue or violet in the light. It feeds on dung and is found in grasslands and woodlands grazed by sheep or cattle. The endless munching of dor beetles saves from being knee deep in animal dung.

Sexton beetle

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This distinctive beetle has a black and orange patterning on its wing cases. It performs an important service in burying and recycling carrion (usually small mammals and birds). Its antennae are packed full of receptors enabling it to smell a dead animal up to a mile away.

Harlequin ladybird

Harmonia axyridis on plant in the wild

The most invasive ladybird, the harlequin arrived in Britain in 2004 and has spread rapidly. This beetle has the potential to jeopardise many of our native ladybird species through competing for food or eating their larvae. It is very variable in appearance.

Great diving beetle

The great diving beetle, Dytiscus marginalis, is a large aquatic diving beetle native to Europe and northern Asia, and is particularly common in England. The great diving beetle, true to its name, is a rather sizable insect. The larvae can grow up to 60 millimetres (2.4 in) in length, while the adults are generally between 27â??35 millimetres (1.1â??1.4 in).

Both larvae and adults are voracious predators of tadpoles, aquatic insect larvae and small fish. The larvae have a scorpion-like appearance and live underwater for two years before transforming into the adult beetle. The 3cm long adults come to the surface regular to replenish their air supply by sticking their abdomen’s out of the water.

Thick legged flower beetle

Thick Legged Flower Beetle - Oedemera nobilis

This spectacular shiny metallic green beetle is most often seen on flowers such as daisy, cow parsley and hawthorn blossom. Only the male has the thickened ‘thighs’ that give the beetle its name; it uses them to impress females. The larvae live in hollow plant stems.

Glow worm

A rather local beetle in the UK. Females are easily spotted as they emit a strong light to attract males.
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The glow worm is not a worm but a beetle. Adult female glow worms are famed for their glow; they are wingless and double the size of the males. Glow worms like chalky or limestone grassland where there are plenty of snails and slugs for their larvae to feed on.