As well as letting you know about the work we do, our blog at RSPB England brings you some of the most weird and wonderful wildlife found in British Nature. This week, our guest blogger Indy Kiemel Greene is writing for us. Indy is a 14 year old RSPB volunteer who, as well as leading guided walks and surveying birds, is just delving into wildlife writing. In this blog Indy introduces us to the life story of a fascinating insect; the black oil beetle!
Listen closely, who's up for some awesome, nerdy, oil beetle lifecycle science?!
Meet the black oil beetle (meloe proscarabaeus). They live in areas of open heathland and particularly thrive in grassy and sandy areas. The male at 30mm is smaller; the female can grow beyond 40mm, so both are pretty sizeable beetles!
From the end of February the beetles start to emerge from their underground chambers. Their first priority is to dig a tiny chamber in the sandy soil on the heathland to lay their eggs. During spring the eggs will hatch into tiny worm-like creatures known as triangulins. These are effectively the black oil beetle larvae and are just 3mm long.
Upon hatching the triangulins make a break for it and emerge from their secret underground nursery. Once above ground, their instinct tells them to crawl to the nearest bright spring flower. They climb up the stem and sit on the flower head and wait for their taxi. Now, here comes the crazy bit...
The young beetles watch and wait, whilst constantly moving around the flower jousting for the best position. ‘Buzzzzzzz’- their taxi has arrived; a solitary bee has come to make the most of the flower’s nectar. Once it lands the triangulins hitch a sneaky ride, and the bee then proceeds to take off with them hanging on. It flies all the way back to its own chamber where the bee has its own eggs and food (nectar) ready for when its own young hatch. Once inside the chamber the triangulins crawl off the bee and start to eat all the food within the chamber - including the bees' eggs! How cheeky is that!? The triangulins spend the rest of the summer, autumn, and winter in the chamber gorging themselves with food. During this period they are slowly pupating into their adult form. Once the following spring has sprung, the triangulins emerging from the solitary bee chamber as an adult black oil beetle. The end of an amazing annual process.
The unique relationship between the black oil beetles and the solitary bees is called kleptoparasitism. It is a fascinating and awesome coming together of two species. The black oil beetle's life cycle would not be successful without the solitary bees. To increase the black oil beetle population we need to increase the solitary bee's population at the same time.
No bee or beetle left behind, every living creature has its place.
(Images: Indy Kiemel and Andy Skinner)
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