On July the 12th in the year of 2017, after losing track of time I left my office slightly past midnight (fear not other academics, I wasn’t working late, I got caught up reading something online and wasn’t looking at the clock).  I was muttering angrily to myself as I do in these types of situations when I noticed something on a retaining wall by the door.  It was a female stag beetle!

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What a fortuitous collection opportunity, stag beetles are definitely one of the more charismatic looking beetle families, their large mandibles give them a very intimidating looking appearance and they’re quite robust in size.  If only I had a collection vial to put her into to…

…which I did! I had the backpack I take insect collecting with me at that moment which was choc-a-bloc full of glass vials!  After some coaxing, I got Ms. Stag Beetle into the vial and then went to my apartment.  And wouldn’t you know, hanging out on the stairs up to my apartment was her boyfriend, Mr. Stag-beetle!

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And wouldn’t you know it, I had a vial just for him too.  He took a little extra coaxing to go into the vial but I nabbed him as well.  I rarely have this kind of luck collecting the larger, more cool looking insects.  Most of my insect collection consists of LBJs (little brown jobs), little anything, or immature aquatic larvae.  Since I didn’t have a kill jar on hand, I placed my two lovers in the freezer to make them unalive so I could pin them.

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The next logical decision was to then go to my twitter to see what I should name them, because I’ve never had a male/female duo of the same genus and species.  The names would be decided the next day after I pinned my beetles.  Although the names I chose are in the title the options were: Fern and George (I’m on an Arthur kick right now, we can discuss my life choices in the comments), Toulouse and Fortescue (two weird hipster names that I just really like), Caprice and Luca (play on the scientific name Lucanus capreolous), Pearl and Henry (suggested by my friend Carson), and Brandine and Cleatus (suggested by my friend Nick).

At some point, I’ll do a more in-depth overview of insect curation where I actually take good photos and remember to take photos of the process step by step.  But, for the sake of keeping this post short and readable, as well as hoarding future content, you get the quick’n’dirty captioned photo version.

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To pin a beetle you will need: 1) A beetle 2) Enamel coated pins of the appropriate size 3) Spreading board or piece of Styrofoam, something that you can stick pins through 4) A pinning block 5) Patience and a steady hand

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Beetles are pinned through the inner corner of the hardened wing covering (elytra).  The pinning block allows me to push the pin a standardized distance.  It has other levels for putting locality information and species ID labels on the pin at standardized lengths.  No pics because I’m bad at this.

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Use the pins to position the beetle’s legs and antenna in whatever pose you want them to dry in.  The beetle legs were hard to position because of how hard their exoskeleton is, so I’m not entirely pleased with them.  You can put them in a relaxing chamber to make them more pliable, but I didn’t have supplies on hand to make one.  I probably also wouldn’t have made one either.

The next day, after carefully weighing the results of the twitter poll and the suggestions from my friends, I came to the decision to name them Toulouse and Fortescue.  However, I was so tickled by Brandine and Cleatus that I’ll be trying to catch another male/female duo to name them that; ideally katydids but anything will do.

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Tolouse is on the left, Fortescue is on the right.  Notice the difference in mouth pincher (mandible) and body size between the male and female stag beetles.

So, some of you may be asking what is a stag beetle?  What an excellent question reader.  Stag beetle is a catch-all name for the beetles in the family lucanidae.  The males are known for having large, fearsome looking mandibles but this trait isn’t true for all members of this family.  The identifying traits of members of the lucanidae family are ten-segmented antenna bent in appearance and often forming a club, 5 tarsi on the fore, mid, and hind limbs, and tarsal claws of the same size.

Lucanus elaphus Fabricius - Lucanus elaphus - male

The males of Lucanus elaphus, the elk stag beetle definitely have an impressive pair of mandibles. Photo credit: Mike Quinn, TexasEnto.net

Platycerus depressus (QC) - Platycerus depressus - male

This male Platycerus depressus, the aspen stag beetle has a much more modest set of mandibles.                                                    Photo credit: Yves Dubuc

Small black beetle with a single nose horn - Sinodendron rugosum

Then there are the oddballs of the stag beetle family, like Sinodendron….               Photo Credit: Justin Johnsen

 

Nicagus occultus Paulsen & Smith - Nicagus occultus

…and Nicagus, which lacks the large showy mandibles of  or a “horn” like Sinodendron    Photo credit: Mike Quinn, TexasEnto.net

In the United States/Canada, there are 8 genera and within those genera are only 38 species, but there are more genera/species world-wide.  They’re typically associated with woodlands, which makes sense because their larvae feed on decaying wood.  Adults mostly rely on fat reserves from their larval stage but also feed on tree sap.  While they can stay in the larval stage for years until conditions are right to emerge as adult beetles, the life of the adult stag beetle is short.  Males fight one another with those jaws for access to female breeding rights, they mate, lay their eggs, and the adults die by the end of summer.  SUCH IS LIFE, I suppose.

I’m super excited to be adding Toulouse and Fortescue to my collection, they’ll definitely be the stars of the show, unless I get one of the elk stag beetles (that would be living the dream).  I should be going out in the field again sometime soon, which would mean more opportunities for collecting, I want some dogbane beetles next.  I think I’ll be gearing up for an insect curating post next, once I have the insects necessary.  So readers, do you have insect collections, what’s the coolest insect you’ve seen/collected this year? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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About Natalia Maass

Current graduate student at Eastern Kentucky University (2017) pursuing a Master's of Science in Biology. Talk nerdy to me.

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