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Page last updated at 08:19 GMT, Wednesday, 21 July 2010 09:19 UK
Queen's executioner spared axe
The Queen's executioner beetle
A dark title for a rare beetle which is being associated with our local royalty

The rare 'Megapenthes lugens' beetle has been given a new name and possibly a brighter future, after being linked to its regal neighbours at Windsor.

The endangered insect has been bestowed with the title the 'Queen's executioner' in a competition to name ten of Britain's rarest species.

The beetle is so rare, it is now only found in Windsor Great Park, which spans Berkshire and parts of Surrey.

The competition aimed to highlight the plight of endangered creatures.

It was organised by Natural England, the Guardian newspaper and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

But should Her Majesty be concerned that her executioner is residing in the shadows of her great castle?

Probably not.

Windsor Great Park
Windsor Great Park is the last bastion of the Queen's executioner

At just under 3 cm (1 1/4 inches) long, the little insect is only a threat to the larvae of other beetles, pupates and flowers.

The nocturnal bug, which is part of the 'European click beetle' family, lives on the decaying trunks of beech and elm trees.

Its body is shaped in such a way that, if unbalanced by predators, it can right itself by using its specially adapted, segmented shell, which makes a clicking noise as it moves.

Now endangered in this country, in the 19th Century it was recorded across Surrey, Norfolk and Middlesex.

Today it is only found in Windsor Great Park, which is part of The Royal Landscape.

In mourning

The beetle was first given its Latin name 'Megapenthes lugens' in 1842.

Megapenthes was a character in Greek mythology whose name means 'great sorrow'. And the word 'lugens' translates as 'to mourn or grieve' in Latin.

Now the small jet beetle with a sombre scientific name has been catapulted into the limelight as a result of its new, similarly cheerless alias.

Thousands of suggestions were submitted and Guardian reader 'greenhitman' was overall winner with his suggestion of 'Queen's executioner' beetle.

He wrote that he had named it thus due to the link with Windsor and the royals: 'The executioner is to represent that it kills (and eats) the larvae of others and also links to its black colour (the hood of an executioner is traditionally black).'

Runners-up names for the mournful beetle included the 'Windsor witch' and the 'Black Prince beetle'.

But however dark its new moniker, the future may be bright for the endangered Queen's executioner beetle.

With its profile raised considerably as a result of the competition, the hope is that the public will form a 'cultural connection' with the bug, caring more about its future.

And with care, comes conservation, so Mother Nature's axe may not be allowed to fall on the 'Megapenthes lugens' just yet.




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