Get to know the Species

Stag beetle

Considered the largest insect in Europe, the stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) lives in Portuguese forests and depends on ancient trees. In Europe, its status is “Near Threatened”.

A curious and relatively rare species, the stag beetle stands out because of its large size compared to other insects. Also known as the pinching bug, this is the largest insect in Europe, reaching nine centimetres in length.

From the Lucanidae family, the stag beetle is a coleopteran – an order of insects that includes beetles, ladybirds and weevils – and its habitat is mature forests with old deciduous trees, especially oaks (Quercus spp.). When they are larvae, they live in the soil and in the roots of trees, feeding on dead wood. The larvae – which can be even larger than the adults (10 centimetres long) – undergo several transformations over a period of up to three years, and then emerge as adults.

Males and females are quite distinct at this adult stage. While males have large, reddish-brown mandibles (for fighting rival males), females have small, black mandibles. The males display themselves high up in trees, making themselves visible to the females and this elevated position allows them to take down rival males, knocking them to the ground. After mating, the males die and the females look for safe places to lay their eggs, which guarantee the survival of the new generation. After laying, they also die.

During their short adult life, they are mainly seen in the summer months, when they are most active and when they feed on the sap that comes from small cracks in the bark of some species of oak, such as the common oak (Quercus robur) or the northern red oak (Quercus rubra). The stag beetle has high nutritional value and is a food source for birds (such as the carrion crow, magpie and kestrel) and also for some mammals, such as the fox (Vulpes vulpes).

The reduction in numbers of this species due to habitat loss, especially in northern Europe, has led the European authorities to include the stage beetle in the species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC of the Council, of 21 May 1992), which designates species of community interest whose conservation requires the designation of special conservation areas. The species is also listed in Appendix III of the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats and is classified as Near Threatened by IUCN.

Vaca-Loura Interior

Did you know that…

  • The name stag beetle is associated with the large jaws of adult males (they represent more than a third of the length of the body), which resemble the antlers on a stag, both in appearance and in function. Although the insect is not blond, its reddish-brown colour has earned it the nickname ‘blond cow’ in Portuguese.
  • The Portuguese citizen-science project lets people record sightings of this species, thus helping in its conservation. The number of sightings has increased since the creation of the project, with a total population currently estimated at 3705 stag beetles in Portugal. The national initiative is part of the European Stag Beetle Monitoring Network.

  • Stag beetle

    Lucanus cervus

  • Genus:


  • Family:


  • Conservation status:

    Near Threatened in Europe, according to the IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature – Red List.

  • Habitats:

    Deciduous forests (predominantly oak forests), riverine woods, and low-lying meadows.

  • Distribution:

    In almost all of Europe and western Asia, especially in the Centre and South, from Portugal to Kazakhstan. In Portugal it is found mainly in the North and Centre.

  • Height/length:

    Up to 9 cm.

  • Lifespan:

    1 to 3 years (larvae); 1 to 4 months (adults).

How do we care for the stag beetle?

The stag beetle has been identified on several Navigator properties, especially in the North region of Portugal, in the area of the Ferreira River (Couce, Valongo), coinciding with places where there are conservation areas for oaks (Quercus spp.).

The species can also be found in the Central region, at Quinta de São Francisco, which has several very old specimens of common oak, , an northern red oak plantation and a line of riverine vegetation with several deciduous species (Salix sp., Fraxinus sp., Ulmus sp., Populus sp.), where it is possible to see dozens of these beetles every year.

The conservation of small groves and vegetation characteristic of watercourses has maintained and even increased the number of sightings of this species.