In the countryside, at this time of year, it is easy to be entranced by the flowers, trees and the landscape in general. Easily seen are the bright green fresh Beech leaves and the foaming white hedgerows of Blackthorn. However, for me, looking a little closer, and thinking a lot smaller, opens up a whole new world to anyone who takes the time to stop and look down.
I have always had a fascination with the micro-landscape and its inhabitants especially the array of beetles to be found. These are now emerging from underground chambers or the rotting trees where they have spent the winter months and, in some cases, the last few years.
If you look closely at the rough grasslands found on the Mendip plateau, then you will find many of Britain’s most interesting beetles. The large (and now endangered) Oil Beetle – so named because of its iridescent black body reflecting light as if in an oil slick, the bright red Cardinal Beetle and the voracious predator that is the Violet Ground Beetle, described to children, with whom I’m working as the lion of the leaf litter due to its strength, speed and efficiency dispatching its unsuspecting victims with its amazingly powerful mandibles.
My favourite by far is the interestingly named Bloody Nose Beetle. This bumbling little herbivore may only be a couple of centimetres long but oozes with character. It’s wing cases are fused into an armoured shell-like, fine matt, black lacquer. It’s feathery, little yellow soled feet and it’s little knobbly antennae are constantly moving, taking in the world around. Like every animal, it has a means of self-defence, and this is where the name comes from. If it feels threatened, it will ooze a stinking red substance from glands on its leg, giving the impression of bleeding and being dead, therefore not very nice to eat. I’m not sure how effective this defence is, but when examining owl pellets and the like, we find very few remains of these beetles whilst the poor dung beetle seems to be unfortunately common. I know some people may struggle with the thought, but I genuinely find these characterful and endearing. Some go for kittens, but I’d chose a beetle any day.
So, next time you’re out walking, take a glance downwards, and a whole new world will open up in front of your eyes. Just be careful not to step on your new friends.