Overview

Brief Summary

Taxonomy

The devil’s coach horse, Ocypus olens, is the largest rove beetle in the UK, measuring 22-32mm.

Rove beetle characteristics:
  • Extended exposed abdomen, covered by sclerotized (hardened) plates and composed of 8 segments (tergites).
  • Characteristic defence posture which is aided by extremely powerful abdominal musculature.
  • Shortened wing cases (elytra) which cover the thorax, concealing a folded second pair of wings which in most species enables flight.
  • Uniformly black body covered in fine, black hairs (setae).


Synonymy
Staphylinus olens is a synonym of Ocypus olens (O F Müller, 1764).
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Introduction

The devil’s coach horse, Ocypus olens, has a formidable reputation earned by its predatory nature and threatening posture.
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Comprehensive Description

Biology

Defense mechanisms
When Ocypus olens is threatened it produces an unpleasant smelling chemical defence from a pair of exocrine glands found at the terminal segment (8th tergite) of the abdomen. It can also excrete fecal fluid from its anus as well as foul smelling fluid from its mouth.

Reproduction and life cycle
Ocypus olens reproduction takes place in the autumn.

1. An egg is laid
14-21 days after mating, the female lays a single egg in a damp, dark place such as
  • leaf litter
  • under stones
This provides the emerging larvae with a habitat.

2. Larva emerges
The larva emerges after 30 days and will live mainly underground. It is predacious like the adult, and has a similar diet and defence behaviour. The larva has 3 successive growth stages, called instars. The final larval stage at approximately 150 days reaches 20-26mm in length.

3. Larva pupates
At this stage, pupation begins, taking up to 35 days.

4. Adult emerges and the cycle begins again
The fully grown adult then emerges from the pupae, remaining inactive for up to 2 hours whilst the wings dry out. These can then be folded under the protective second wing cases (elytra).Adults can either:
  • remain active throughout a second winter if conditions are mild
  • hibernate underground, emerging again in March
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Ecology

Habitat

To complete its lifecycle, the devil's coach horse relies on decaying natural matter such as:
  • leaf litter
  • dead wood
The beetle is found in damp conditions in most natural environments including:
  • woodland
  • hedgerow
  • meadow
  • garden
It will occasionally wander indoors, much to the fright of the household.
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General Ecology

Distribution ecology

Ecology
The devil’s coach horse is a nocturnal predator. It feeds on:
  • other invertebrates such as
    • insects
    • woodlice
    • slugs
  • carrion
How the beetle feeds:
  1. Exceptionally large mandibles (jaws) crush and cut the prey.
  2. This is then chewed and shaped into a ball-shaped mass (bolus).
  3. The bolus passes through the digestive tract and is eventually secreted from the foregut.
  4. Once liquefied, the food is finally digested


UK distribution
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Ocypus olens

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


No available public DNA sequences.

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ocypus olens

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 11
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Conservation

Ocypus olens is a beneficial insect. Its diet ensures that organic matter is broken down and nutrients are returned to the food chain and the soil.This beetle does not have conservation status in the UK. It is an example of a species successfully exploiting an ecological niche. Its place as a dominant insect predator are ensured by:
  • non-specific habitat requirements
  • a diverse and plentiful food source
However, we must ensure that habitats continue to exist for this beetle species to survive successfully. This means conserving natural spaces, and where they don't exist, building a beetle refuge.

Essential habitat requirements:
  • dead wood
  • leaf litter
View a beetle refuge and find out from the Wildlife Trusts how to build one
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Wikipedia

Devil's coach horse beetle

The Devil's coach-horse beetle, sometimes known as the Cocktail beetle[1] (Ocypus olens) is a very common and widespread European beetle, belonging to the large family of the rove beetles (Staphylinidae).[2] It was originally included in the genus Staphylinus in 1764,[3] and some authors and biologists still use this classification. The species has also been introduced to the Americas and parts of Australasia.

This black beetle usually shelters during the day under stones, logs or leaf litter. It is most often seen in forests, parks and gardens between April and October.

Description[edit]

Devil's coach horse beetle
Showing the smelling glands
Threat display

It is a long-bodied beetle. At about 25–28 millimetres (1.0–1.1 in) it is one of the larger British beetles. Its wing covers (elytra) are short covering only its thorax, exposing the abdominal segments. The abdominal musculature is powerful and the abdominal segments are covered with sclerotized plates. It is capable of flight but its wings are rarely used. It is covered with fine black hairs.

It is well known for its habit of raising its long and uncovered abdomen and opening its jaws,[2] rather like a scorpion when threatened. This explains one of its alternative names, the cock-tail beetle. Although it has no sting, it can give a painful bite with its strong pincer-like jaws. It also emits a foul smelling odour, as a defensive secretion, from a pair of white glands at the end of its abdomen.[2]

Diet[edit]

Attacking an earthworm

It is a predator, hunting mainly by night, feeding on invertebrates including worms and woodlice, as well as carrion. The prey is caught in the mandibles which are also used to cut and together with the front legs to manipulate the food into a bolus. The bolus is repeatedly chewed and swallowed, emerging covered with a brown secretion from the foregut, until it is reduced to a liquid which is digested. Skin (in the case of earth worms) and hard materials (from arthropods) are left. The larvae are also carnivorous with similar eating habits.

Reproduction[edit]

Larva

Females lay their eggs from 2–3 weeks after first mating. They are large (4 millimetres or 0.16 inches) and white with a darker band and laid singly in damp conditions under moss, stones, cow pats or leaf litter, typically in the Autumn.[citation needed] After around 30 days the eggs split and the larvae emerge, white with a straw coloured head. The larva lives largely underground, and feeds on similar prey to the adult and has the same well developed mandibles. It adopts the same display with open jaws and raised tail when threatened. The larva goes through three stages of growth (instars) the final stage ranging from 20 to 26 mm in length. At around 150 days the larva pupates for about 35 days and emerges as an adult with its final colouring, fully formed except for the wings which cannot be folded neatly beneath the elytra for several hours. Adults can survive a second winter, some by hibernating in burrows and not emerging until March while others remain active.[citation needed]

Superstition[edit]

This beetle has been associated with the Devil since the Middle Ages, hence its common name. Other names include Devil's footman, Devil's coachman and Devil's steed. In Irish, the beetle is called dearga-daol[4] or darbh-daol.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wooton. A. , (2000) Spotter's Guide to Bugs and Insects, 3rd ed, London: Usborne Publishing Limited, page 25
  2. ^ a b c C. E. Nield (1976). "Aspects of the biology of Staphylinus olens (Müller), Britain's largest staphylinid beetle". Ecological Entomology 1 (2): 117–126. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2311.1976.tb01212.x. 
  3. ^ Staphylinus olens, Fauna Europaea
  4. ^ Ainmeacha Plandaí agus Ainmhithe (1978) Oifig an tSoláthair
  5. ^ Foclóir Gaeḋilge agus Béarla: an Irish-English dictionary, being a thesaurus of the words, phrases and idioms of the modern Irish language; compiled and edited by Patrick S. Dinneen. New edition, revised and greatly enlarged. xxx, 1344 p. Dublin: published for the Irish Texts Society by the Educational Company of Ireland, 1927.
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