What species of insect is this? – the Devils Coach Horse

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Sebastian Verschoor asked me what species of insect this is:

Staphylinus olens Staphylinus olens2

Well this one I knew immediately. That is because it drew my attention while browsing my insect book. This is the Devil’s Coach Horse (Ocypus olens). It is a beetle which has very short wings (literally translated the Dutch name is: smelly short winged beetle). When threatened it raises its abdomen (ass) in the air and when really annoyed it secretes a smelly substance. The white things protruding from its abdomen in the second picture are the vesicles that contain the smelly secretion. I really like this little critter (it is actually quite large, 2-3 cm), so I decided to write a blog about it.

This little critter is so frightening to some people, that it is known from folklore beliefs. It isn’t called the Devils Coach Horse for nothing. The story goes that the Devil, in the form of a Devil Coach Horse, eats the bodies of sinners. When ritually killed with fire, these dark powers can be used for one’s own advantage. Although I strongly doubt whether it is send by the Devil and that you can harness it powers by burning it, it does feed on corpses. But it usually eats other invertebrates which they capture by old fashioned hunting (see the movie below of a couple of these beetles dissecting a millipede).

Even though I do like it, I won’t be doing any research on it anytime soon. It happens to be a terrible laboratory animal. It only lays one gigantic egg a day. The eggs are approximately 3x4mm (the flour beetle egg is about 0,3×0,5mm). Furthermore, they take like forever to develop. Forever meaning about a month, compared to 3 days in the flour beetle. They only have 1 generation a year, which makes many experiments impossible.

They do have an interesting sex life though. A quote from a paper of Nield, 1976:

In the fourteen introductions made, all following and overt interest was exhibited by the male, the females apparently showing little reaction, unless making an aggressive move. Once mated, the female grasped the male’s genitalia strongly with her own, and frequently walked or climbed. The male often fell of her back, and was dragged along backwards.

Those poor males. So they are interesting animals. Sebastian, thanks for your question and great pictures! Maybe I will ritually burn some Devil’s Coach Horses when I have to apply for funding, their dark powers might give me the upper hand on my competition!

C.E. Nield (1976). “Aspects of the biology of Staphylinus olens (Müller), Britain’s largest Staphylinid beetle.” Ecological Entomology 1: 117-126.

October 11, 2013March 10, 201700In Insects, What species of insect is this?Tags , , , ,

About author

Chris Jacobs (Chris Jacobs)

Evolutionary biologist, eco-evo-devo | seek to increase the understanding of science | PostDoc @ Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.

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