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Stag Beetles

Few insects can grab your attention like a giant stag beetle. Stag beetles are in the insect family Lucanidae. Both females and males of many Lucanid species are impressively big, but the males, with their long mouthparts that look like antlers on a stag, are amazing and intimidating. While they are also called pinching bugs by some, they are quite harmless. The males have prominent mouthparts not to bite people but rather to impress females and to push, pull, and even throw rival stag beetles away from their future mate. Think of it as two bucks fighting over a doe in the forest.

And in the forest is where stag beetles like to live. Most of their life, from 3 to 5 years, is spent as giant beetle grubs in rotting wood where they feed on liquids produced during the decay process. This makes them important in recycling fallen trees back into basic nutrients for the forest ecosystem. According to a 2017 USDA/Forest Service article*, because of our abundance of thick, moist forests, South Carolina has some of the best habitats in the country for giant stag beetles.

The largest (giant) stag beetle in South Carolina is Lucanus elaphus. It is one of seven Lucanid beetle species found in the state. While adults look too big and cumbersome to fly, they can. By opening their thick front wings, they unfold their membranous back wings and take off, not unlike a giant B-52 bomber. They are often active at night and can be attracted to lights.

The largest (giant) stag beetle in South Carolina is Lucanus elaphus. Photo credit: Anton-Borakov, Shutterstock

The largest (giant) stag beetle in South Carolina is Lucanus elaphus.
Photo credit: Anton-Borakov, Shutterstock

If you see a giant stag beetle, do not be concerned. Stag beetles are only in the adult stage for a few months, mainly from May to August. Their primary purpose is to mate before they die to produce future offspring to help recycle the forest. So, if you are lucky enough to see an adult giant stag beetle, remember they will not hurt you, your pets, or your home. Just take some time to marvel at one of the insect wonders found right here in South Carolina.

Rival male stage beetles push, pull, and throw each other around to win favor with females. Photo credit: Evgeniy Melnikov, Shutterstock.

Rival male stage beetles push, pull, and throw each other around to win favor with females.
Photo credit: Evgeniy Melnikov, Shutterstock

*For more information, see the following link summarizing the research on giant stag beetles:

USDA Giant Stag Beetles: Ecology, Genetics, and Distribution

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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