T is for Typhaeus: Minotaur Beetle
This is a Minotaur beetle, and despite appearances it is a gentle, dung-munching giant.
Picture the scene. Midnight on an abandoned stretch of dry grassland. A soft breeze stirs brittle stems, setting them rattling, whispering untold secrets into the dark. And look! There, lumbering into view on a patch of short turf, lit by pale moonlight, goes a monster. The strong black dome of its body is capped by three vicious prongs like a triceratops; a broad, bristly head rears forth with bulbous, staring eyes; six terrifyingly spiky legs drag it towards its lair, front feet holding fast to the latest victim.
Which looks suspiciously like a rabbit dropping. For this is no monstrous beast, out to wreak violence. This is a Minotaur beetle, and despite appearances it is a gentle, dung-munching giant. Growing up to 2 cm long – whilst that may sound short, it’s pretty big for a beetle – this is one of the more striking of Britain’s beetles. In an endearing echo of rabbits, the Minotaur beetle’s chief supplier of food, each beetle digs a nest burrow. These are often elaborately divided and run as deep as a metre and a half into the ground.
In each chamber a ball of dung and a single egg is deposited, and the young Minotaur beetle larvae lead a sheltered underground existence, feasting on their handy ready meals. Once ready, the larvae pupate and the next generation of adult beetles generally emerges in the autumn.
Though it is thinly distributed over thin soils, the Minotaur’s range covers much of England, and it could turn up almost anywhere in suitable habitat. Both of the photographs used here are of individuals in Cornwall: one that I found last June, crossing the South West Coast Path on a soggy, overcast day, and one seen back in February by a friend who lives down there. Yet the National Biodiversity Gateway shows no records for the entire county of Cornwall.
I’m hoping these two records will make their way into the database in the near future and help to set things straight. It serves to show that even records of big, easily identified insects can make a meaningful contribution to our knowledge of how species are distributed.