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Thursday, 14 May, 1998, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Great stag hunt for vanishing beetle
A stag beetle on the march
Stag beetles are not as frightening as they look ...
Wildlife experts are calling on British people to help stop one of the country's most spectacular insects from dying out.

Nature groups and academics say that the fearsome looking stag beetle needs help because it is slowly disappearing from the UK's shores.

The insect, famed for its enormous antler-like jaws, is considered sacred in some cultures for its supposed magical powers.

But in the UK, its numbers seem to have declined so much that the popular and important beetle may have found its last refuge in the south and London.

A scientist looking for a stag beetle under dead wood
... and they can be found living under dead wood
The People's Trust for Endangered Species is working with Environment Minister Michael Meacher to gather as much information as possible about the animal's whereabouts over the next 12 months.

They want the public to record any sightings of the insect and pass the information on to beetle experts.

Armed with facts about how widespread the stag beetle is, they then may be able to work out a plan to stop it dying out completely.

Formidable sight

The stag beetle grows up to 5cm long and can be a formidable sight.

The males use the antler-like jaws to lock in combat to win the right to mate with females.

It has even entered the world of show business thanks to top-selling UK band Massive Attack.

A spokesman from the Virgin record label said the band chose the stag beetle from among millions of species as the basis of a collage on the cover of their latest album Mezzanine.

A stag beetle on the cover of Massive Attack's album Mazzanine
They have even made it into the music industry
But, ironically, the march of urbanisation, appears to be offering the only safe haven for the beetle.

The beetle lives in dead wood which it helps to recycle.

Experts believe it may be found in numbers in urban areas because of changes in countryside land management.

The People's Trust and London Wildlife Trust are setting up World Wide Web pages for people to help in the research if they see the creature rummaging around in gardens.

Dr Valerie Keeble, of the People's Trust for Endangered Species, said: "The characteristic antler-like jaws of the male allow even non-experts to identify the beetle.

"This project therefore presents an opportunity for everyone to make a direct contribution to efforts to assist a popular and threatened species."

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