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Devil's coach horse beetle facts for kids

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Devil's coach-horse beetle
Scientific classification
O. olens
Binomial name
Ocypus olens
(O. F. Müller, 1764)

Staphylinus olens O. F. Müller, 1764

The Devil's coach-horse beetle, is a very common beetle in Europe. It is also sometimes called the Cocktail beetle. It belongs to the family of the rove beetles.

Distribution and habitat

These very common and widespread beetles are present in most of Europe and in North Africa. They have also been introduced to the Americas and parts of Australasia. They prefer areas with damp conditions and they can be found from April to October in meadows, heath and moorland, woodlands, hedgerows, parks and gardens. During the day they commonly stay under logs, stones or leaf litter.


It is a long-bodied black beetle. At about 20–32 millimetres (0.8–1.3 in), it is one of the larger British beetles. Its wing covers (elytra) are short, covering only its thorax, exposing the abdominal segments. The abdominal musculature is powerful and the abdominal segments are covered with sclerotized plates. It is capable of flight, but its wings are rarely used. It is covered with fine, black hairs. It is well known for its habit of raising its long and uncovered abdomen and opening its jaws, rather like a scorpion when threatened. Although it has no sting, it can give a painful bite with its strong, pincer-like jaws. It also emits a foul-smelling odour, as a defensive secretion, from a pair of white glands at the end of its abdomen.

Biology and diet

It is a predator, hunting mainly by night, feeding on a range of invertebrates including worms, slugs, spiders, small moths and woodlice, as well as carrion. The prey is caught in the mandibles which are also used to cut and together with the front legs to manipulate the food into a bolus. The bolus is repeatedly chewed and swallowed, emerging covered with a brown secretion from the foregut, until it is reduced to a liquid which is digested. Skin (in the case of earthworms) and hard materials (from arthropods) are left. The larvae are also carnivorous with similar eating habits.


Ocypus olens mates in autumn. Females lay their eggs from 2–3 weeks after first mating. They are large (4 millimetres or 0.16 inches) and white with a darker band and laid singly in damp conditions under moss, stones, cow pats, or leaf litter. After around 30 days, the eggs split and the larvae emerge, white with a straw-coloured head. The larva lives largely underground, and feeds on similar prey to the adult and has the same well-developed mandibles. It adopts the same display with open jaws and raised tail when threatened. The larva goes through three stages of growth (instars), the final stage ranging from 20 to 26 mm in length. Around 150 days old, the larva pupates for about 35 days and emerges as an adult with its final colouring, fully formed except for the wings which cannot be folded neatly beneath the elytra for several hours. Adults can survive a second winter, some by hibernating in burrows and not emerging until March, while others remain active.


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