Gone But Not Forgotten
- Jan 6, 2003
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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0, ... 86,00.htmlThe Times June 29, 2006
Alien giant that crept out of the woodwork
By Simon de Bruxelles
::nobreak::A GIANT beetle thought to have died out in Britain has been discovered crawling round a carpenter’s workshop.
The 16.5cm (6½in) giant capricorn beetle was at first mistaken for a toy by the man who found it, Ben Perrot.
“I thought someone had left it there to give me a fright,” he said. “It looked like something you would get from a toy shop but then it started to move.”
Mr Perrot called in colleagues who helped him to put the beetle into a glass jar.
Experts have confirmed that the beetle is a giant capricorn, which was believed to have disappeared in this country in the early 18th century. Cerambyx cerdo is still found in France and other parts of the Continent, but it is classified as extremely rare across its range.
The body of the adult, which lives for only a few weeks, measures 5cm, but its antennae stretch a further 11cm. These are used by males to detect the pheromone scent emitted by females.
The beetles make a screeching noise by rubbing their legs together to warn off predators and have large, powerful jaws capable of biting through wood. They can give a nasty nip if handled.
The giant capricorn was thought to have died out in Britain when the demand for timber meant that fallen oak trees were cut up and used rather than left to rot. The beetles spend two years as larvae burrowing through wood until they emerge to look for a mate.
Mr Perrot, from Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, spotted the beetle on a plank of wood as he was making a piece of furniture. “I’d never seen anything like it before,” he said. “It looks like something out of a science fiction film or like a monster from Doctor Who. I wasn’t too worried about it because it was a beetle, but I wouldn’t have liked it if it had been a spider.”
The creature was being studied yesterday by Ian Morgan, an entomologist, who said that it was an exciting discovery. “This is the first time in centuries that it has been seen here in Wales,” he said. “It is a male and he was found in timber labelled English oak. I realised it was something special as soon as I saw it. It is very rare and is the largest long-horned beetle in Europe.
“This type of long-horn beetle was supposed to have been extinct in the
UK since 1700. The beetle depends on very large oaks for its grubs to feed on over a long period. It is illegal to kill it anywhere.”
Workers at the furniture factory have set up a tank for the beetle to live in and plan to donate its body to the National Museum of Wales when it dies.
The wood from which the beetle emerged was a piece of English oak that had been supplied by Barrett timber merchants in Carmarthen.
Tony Giles, manager of the furniture workshop, said: “It tried to run off across the table but we popped him in a jar. We didn’t have a clue what it was at first so we looked him up on the internet and called in an expert.
“We found more than one so some breeding seems to have taken place. The origin of the wood is difficult to pinpoint because recycled oak gets mixed with fresh stuff.
“The experts say that these beetles have not been around for a long time, but it’s hard for a layman to understand how they can know that. Who can say what is crawling around out there?”
Maxwell Barclay, curator of beetles at the Natural History Museum in London, believes that the beetle — or its parents — originally hitched a ride on imported timber.
There has been no conclusive evidence of the presence of the capricorn beetle living in wood in Britain more recently than the Bronze Age.
He said: “It’s an extremely exciting find. The fact that it is a fully grown beetle means that will have lived most of its entire life in the UK, although it is doubtful that it is a native species.
“It was probably imported in with a batch of Hungarian oak and moved to the native oak in the timber yard. The fact that it was found alive at such a mature stage of it’s growth may be an indicator of climatic change. Its presence raises the exciting prospect of it becoming a native beetle once more.”
A giant capricorn was found in Warwickshire last year but is thought to have come in on imported timber
Britain’s largest beetle is the stag at 7.5cm
There are 350,000 known species of beetle, 20 per cent of all animals