You’ve come across the magnificent stag beetles and you found that you can keep them as pets — and yes they make good pets indeed. But how do you care for stag beetles? There are many different types of stag beetles, one even more stunning or surprising than the other. The good news is that the care between the different species does not differ much, if at all. So in this practical care guide, we will look at how to care for your stag beetles.
Stag beetles can be housed in a terrarium or plastic container with a size of at least 30cm by 30cm by 30cm high that contains a good layer of flake soil, coconut fibre or topsoil substrate. Most stag beetles do fine at room temperature, in a humid environment and can be fed solely on beetle jelly.
We will discuss in detail how to house, feed and care for them. Hopefully, this care guide will help you to give proper care and that you enjoy keeping these amazing creatures. But first, let’s have a closer look at stag beetles and their biology. Let’s go!
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About stag beetles (Lucanidae spp.)
First, a little more about stag beetles. The lucanidae family exists of around 1200 beetle species and all have more or less two antlers, while some species have quite huge ones. Specimens that are kept as pets are generally around 5cm (2″). Some wild specimens can grow up to 12cm (4.7″).
Like all beetles, they have that typical build of the head, thorax and abdomen. And as with all insects, they have 6 legs. The species that is most familiar in Europe is known as the stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) and is the largest terrestrial insect in the whole of Europe. This species has a typical brown/black appearance.
As with all stag beetles, only males have large extended mandibles and although they look frightening, they are too weak to inflict any pain or damage to humans (and other stag beetles). Males use their mandibles to fight with other males and try to knock them off branches to eliminate the competition for breeding. Females have much smaller mandibles.
Stag beetles come in all sizes, shapes and colours but all have those typical mandibles. The Giraffe stag beetle (Prosopocoilus giraffa) is the largest stag beetle in the world. One very popular stag beetle in the pet industry is the rainbow stag beetle (Phalacrognathus muelleri), one of the most spectacular coloured stag beetle of them all. However, there are multiple colour variations of the rainbow stag beetle, as well as other stag beetle species.
The adult beetle — also known as the imago — is only one of the four stages of the beetle life cycle. And although generally stag beetles live from 3 up to 7 years, the adults last a couple of weeks or months. For most of their lives, they live underground in the substrate.
You can buy stag beetles online at several breeders or at reptile/invert expos that are held in many countries. Some exotic pet shops have stag beetles as well.
What about other species? There are many more beetle species that you can keep as pets. You one the other popular family is flower beetles. A species that I can highly recommend to start with is the sun beetle (care guide). They are easy to keep and a colourful beetle species.
How to house stag beetles
The housing of beetles is quite simple. You can keep these beetles single or in pairs, and with some species, it is possible to keep multiple females with or without a single male. As you are probably new to keeping stag beetles, it is best to keep them alone or as a couple for breeding.
You can house them in an enclosure with a size of at least 30cm by 30cm by 30cm high (12″x12″x12″). As for a couple it is better to go larger. You can use a glass terrarium for housing them, but a simple plastic box works just as well. However, a terrarium is ready out of the box and can be used immediately for keeping beetles. With a plastic container, you need to make a couple of adjustments so it has proper ventilation.
You can also use an old aquarium and make a custom lid. As long as you provide good ventilation it will be fine. As with a plastic container, you cut out a square or several holes and cover it with fine metal mesh. Don’t use insect screens because beetles are strong and may gnaw a way out. You can also drill tiny ventilation holes that are way too small for them to climb out.
For raising and keeping adult stag beetles you can use a simple layer of a substrate. A good product for the substrate is coconut fibre or topsoil. Place a layer of around 5cm (2″) in the enclosure. Substrate helps regulate the humidity and makes it able for a beetle to crawl away. When having a couple, they will lay the eggs into the substrate.
A good alternative product to use as a substrate is called flake soil, a product that is made out of decayed hardwood leaves, mostly from old oak trees. You can make flake soil yourself by collecting leaves from oak trees, freezing them, drying them, and grinding them into little pieces. However, you can also easily buy flake soil at many retailers specialising in keeping exotic pets.
However, if you keep and raise stag beetle larvae, you’ll need another substrate. Larvae live completely in the substrate and will feed on decaying wood. So, although you can use coconut fibre or topsoil as a basis, you need to add a lot of rotten wood to it. Especially wood that has white rot, a fungus that attacks decaying wood, is perfect for raising stag beetle larvae. They won’t eat anything else so without a good substrate they won’t survive.
If you like to know more, I’ve written a whole article about beetle substrate that I recommend you to read. It is packed with all the information, tips and tricks to know about substrate for beetles.
Decoration of the enclosure
At the minimum besides a substrate, you should provide a hide for your beetle(s). You can use a bend tree piece, coconut husk or some cork bark pieces.
You could add plants and moss to the enclosure. They don’t particularly need it but it looks much nicer. However, keep in mind that stag beetles are notorious to destroy any plant in the enclosure so live plants don’t survive that long and need to be replaced several times. Moss, on the other hand, works better. The benefit of keeping plants is that it also stimulates a higher humidity.
Some climbing opportunities like twigs and branches are very appreciated by your beetles. They use it to warm up and bask under the light (more on that in the next section). Also, it makes the enclosure more dynamic and interesting, which in turn encourages the beetles to explore the enclosure more.
Please read if you want to collect material from outside! Be careful what and where you collect material from outside for your animals. Some plant parts are unhealthy or toxic for your animals. If you collect material to decorate your enclosure, avoid locations alongside roads, parking lots or farming areas. Car exhaust gasses are not healthy for insects. Farmers may use pesticides or other chemicals for their crops which in turn in toxic for your animals. Try to collect materials from your own garden, local park or forest where there is probably no polution that damage your precious insects.
A proper climate for your stag beetles
Stag beetles do rather well at room temperature. Try to keep the temperature around 18°C to 25°C (65°F-77°F). In most houses, there is no need for additional heat like a heat lamp or heat mat. They can survive in higher and lower temperatures for a short time. Keeping them longer at higher temperatures result in more activity, but will also shorten the life expectancy of your beetles.
However, it is advisable to provide a light cycle of 12h:12h, so a regular light bulb above the enclosure or in the room is recommended. Also, natural indirect sunlight entering the room where your animals are kept is a good option to provide a natural photoperiod. Don’t place the enclosure in direct sunlight, because this will heat up the enclosure to temperatures that are deadly for your beetles.
The environment should be kept humid. Now, in an enclosure humidity may raise naturally, but occasional spraying of the substrate is a good practice. Make sure you don’t make it too wet though because a soak environment is not healthy for your beetles and attract fungi and bacteria to grow. As mentioned before, a substrate and moss/plants help keep the environment humid.
How to feed stag beetles
Adult stag beetles eat primarily fruit juice and tree sap. A commercial product that is accepted very well is beetle jelly. As the name suggests it is a cup with liquid fruit jelly that can be fed on almost any beetle. It is an easy and nutritious food and beetles can be solely fed on beetle jelly. Now, at many shops or online beetle jelly is regularly available, but if you have difficulties getting it — or want to make it yourself — I’ve written a complete guide on how to make beetle jelly yourself. You can feed it in a little cup or bottle cap.
Other products that you can feed adult stag beetles are fruits. Apples, mangos, bananas, and pears are good products to feed your stag beetles. You can feed them on a little dish plate, but the beetles probably push the fruit eventually into the substrate anyway (and that does not matter because they still eat it anyway and can’t do any harm). Avoid fruits that contain a lot of water like grapes and watermelon. And in contrast with beetle jelly, fruits tend to attract fruit flies which can be a real plaque sometimes.
Refresh your food regularly, around every other day. Try to feed the amount that is eaten so you don’t spill too much and have to throw it away. Don’t worry about overfeeding your beetles. They can regulate their needs perfectly themselves and will not eat more than they can handle.
How to handle your stag beetles
Although stag beetles are tough and strong, you still need to be delicate when handling your beetles. Stag beetles can be handled very well, but care must be taken to do it gently.
Never forcibly pull them off any object. This also means off your hand. Beetles have little storm claws on their feet and tidily grip onto any surface. When pulling a beetle off a surface can damage its legs, feet or claws.
When you wish to handle your beetle, let them walk on your hand. You can coax it forward by softly nudging it from behind. If it is not in the mood, then let him or her do its thing and try it a little later. Be aware that some stag beetles, like rainbow stag beetles, can fly. Make sure that it can’t potentially be damaged for example by a ceiling fan or be lost by an open window. These beetles can’t survive outside in different climates and when they can, can be very destructive to native fauna and flora.
How to breed stag beetles
Important note: Never house more than one male in the same enclosure. The males will fight which highly shortens their lifespan or one will even kill the other. Always keep them singular, in pairs or in single-sexed female groups.
Breeding stag beetles can be tricky and the difficulty depends on the species. In some species, the male may damage or kill the female during breeding. Be careful when placing a male together with a female, and for some species, it is better to separate them after breeding is successful.
In most cases, a fertilized female wants to lay their eggs near or onto a piece of decaying wood, so make sure there is decaying wood available in the enclosure. Make sure the substrate and wood are moist/damp, as it stimulates the female to lay their eggs and makes a good condition for eggs to survive and hatch into larvae.
How the larvae develop depends on the species. For most stag beetle species it is best to keep larvae singular after the first larval stage. Although larvae are not particular cannibalistic, larvae can damage each other and this in turn can attract infection. The survival rate and breeding success increase when keeping larvae singular. They eat solely on decaying wood and need a thick layer of substrate (coconut fibre, topsoil, flake soil, and a lot of decaying wood). Every species has its own development time and some can take up years before they are ready to pupate. For most species, the larvae make a cocoon where they are ready to turn into a pupa before new adult beetles emerge.
I recommend you research your specific species and look up detailed information about breeding them and the condition the larvae need to develop. It is difficult to go into detail for every stag beetle species in this article.
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