RSPB Trainee Ecologist, Kirsty Godsman, introduces us to the black snail beetle.
The gardener's saviour
I would like to introduce you to my June beetle of the month - a wonderful little beetle that you may not be aware of but that you might soon hope to find in your garden...the black snail beetle.
The black snail beetle (Silpha atrata).
This beetle belongs to the same family as the burying beetles that are better known for their habit of burying dead animals underground and laying eggs on them and for being associated with carcases in general. Not very pleasant perhaps but we all have to make a living somehow! Now the black snail beetle (although not always black) is known for having a different strategy. They eat snails.
A greedy black snail beetle and an unfortunate snail. Photo via www.eakringbirds.com
So gardeners rejoice! This is yet another species of beetle that can help you out in times of snail abundance (along with glow worms and many predatory ground beetles). And the larvae are known for eating snails too! (Not that I have anything against snails... I quite like them actually!)
UK distribution of the black snail beetle via NBN Gateway.
Their distribution in the UK looks quite patchy but some put this down to the fact that they hunt at night and less people go beetle hunting at night. So never fear, if there isn’t a yellow dot near you – this could just be down to a lack of records rather than a lack of beetles.
A red black snail beetle.
So aside from this beetle’s habit of devouring snails, it is fairly easy to identify and comes in a variety of colours. What more could you ask for? The colour can vary from black through to red. It can be separated from other burying beetles by its very narrow and long head (all the better to eat snails with) and because the front of its thorax (the section immediately behind the head) is completely rounded. It also has four quite distinct ridges along the length of its wing cases. It is a fair size for a British beetle – 10 to 15mm so shouldn’t be too difficult to spot. Although you may need to look in moss or under wood and bark as this is where they are reported to be found most regularly. They have been found in habitats as varied as woodlands, gardens, coasts and more. I have found them under a log on the Pentland hills and amongst sand dunes on the coast of Coll so keep your eyes peeled!