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Bedfordshire Longhorn Beetles
Longhorn beetles are a small but distinctive group of generally large beetles called the Cerambycidae, which, as you would expect from the common name, have long antennae, often as long as, or longer than, the body. The antennae are capable of being held back along the body and are usually thread-like, but in a few species they are saw-tooth-like or feather-like. Longhorns are usually long-legged with elongated bodies and the elytra (wing-cases) come in an attractive range of colours and patterns.
The larvae of most longhorns eat wood, but a few eat stems or roots. Within the UK there are only one or two species that eat sound timber and may be considered a pest by foresters. Many species eat dead and decaying timber, helping to break it down and recycle its nutrients and may thus be considered beneficial. Either way, longhorns are an integral part of the ecology of woodlands and a long-established semi-natural ancient wood may support a couple of dozen species. Some species prefer timber lying on the ground, some tree stumps while others only eat standing deadwood. Some small species live in the twigs of hawthorn and other shrubs, and a couple of species occur in the stems of thistles or umbellifers. The species of tree is important for some longhorns, while others are less fussy, and the degree of fungal decay may also be a factor in selecting the food source. Longhorns may thus be indicators of the quality and maturity of woodland.
Being vegetarian longhorns are near the bottom of the food-chain. Woodpeckers are particularly fond of the larvae and break open timber to reveal their chambers and then extract them with their tongues.
The adults of many species can be found feeding on pollen in late spring and early summer. June is an especially good time to look for them, which conveniently coincides with a dip in butterfly species on the wing and therefore provides an interesting alternative to study. Hawthorn, Dogwood and Hogweed are good flowers to examine, being white and with stout flat heads on which the beetles can stand: these white flowers are the target of a longhorn monitoring method being developed by the Wildlife Trust. Longhorns may also be found on other wood-edge and ride-side flowers. Tapping any woodland foliage over a tray may also dislodge them, as well as a wealth of interesting invertebrates of all kinds. Try to return as much as possible to its original home once examined, and don't be over-vigorous in shaking the foliage, to avoid damage.
With a little practice, most species can be identified in the field without the need to collect any samples, which would need permission from landowners and English Nature in the case of SSSIs/NNRs. Many are large and distinctive and can easily be recognized with the naked eye, though a hand-lens will be useful to see some characteristics clearly to distinguish some species. Photographs can be taken for independent identification since they are usually quite approachable, though they usually don't stand still for as long as you would like! If you photograph, or already have photographs, of any species that's not shown on this website then please send them in and we'll build up a reference gallery of Bedfordshire species that we can all use to aid identification. Visit the current gallery.
It would be good to build up current species lists for some of our larger semi-natural woodlands, like both King's Woods, Marston Thrift, Maulden Wood, Flitwick Moor, Potton Wood, Swineshead Wood, West Wood, etc., but records from anywhere would help to build up a picture of the distribution of species. I know that the Wildlife Trust would be especially interested to know what we find on their reserves.
Brian Eversham, CEO of the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust, has kindly made available his key for the identification of species that we are likely to find in the county HERE. This should enable longhorns to be identified to species in the field.
Brian has also provided a checklist of longhorns which includes the likely status of longhorns in the county and the habitats in which they may be found.
One final note; if you read about longhorns you may find some of the species named with a different genus. Taxonomists are forever moving things around, so if this confuses you, just use the specific part of the name. I have changed this website to use the correct current nomenclature of the UK checklist (link given below). Brian's key uses the genus of older nomenclatures for a number of species, but in all cases the specific part of the old and current names are identical.
Longhorn Beetles of the British Isles by Norman Hickin. Shire Natural History Series.
Species Chart. Preliminary info on Bedfordshire species. (Added 29th April 2008).
Distribution. Species distribution following the 2006 & 2007 seasons.
Report 2008. The report from the 2008 season.
Report 2007. The report from the 2007 season. (Updated 4th April 2008).
Report 2006. The report from the 2006 survey. (Updated 21st February 2007).
Keith Balmer All images © Keith Balmer