Rare Beetle found in Thatch

A Very Interesting Conversation

We had an enquiry on lofts in thatched roofs, which turned into a really interesting conversation about a rare beetle which depends on thatch to complete its lifecycle.

Jilly (who is a farm adviser with The Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group or FWAG) explained that her Longstraw thatched roof in Essex is home to the rare Scarlet Malachite Beetle and we were keen to know more about it as well as where the thatched roof fitted in.

She also mentioned that they hope to increase awareness of this rare beetle and were looking for more sightings to map its numbers and locations.  Jilly is in Essex and she said there are apparently only 4 – 5 known sites in the country, including Hampshire, where we are.

Please read on, understand more about these rare beetles, Jilly’s involvement and how you can help.

Please then keep your eyes open, recognise the Scarlet Malachite Beetle if you see it and let us know so we can pass the information on to her and the team involved in this project.

What does a Rare Scarlet Malachite Beetle look like?

The beetle is about a centimetre or so long and looks a little like a red lily beetle but with a malachite green strip running down its back where its wing cases meet.

Thanks to Ian Hughes  https://lifeformsart.co.uk for this fabulous sketch of the Scarlet Malachite Beetle.

Scarlet Malachite Beetle image from I Huges

Background to the Rare Beetle Story

In lockdown we spotted an unusual little red beetle flying though the garden. It didn’t look like a ladybird, but I couldn’t keep up with it to identify it. I had heard of the Scarlet Malachite Beetle so was thrilled when a neighbour then found a small colony in the garden of her thatched cottage. It was a new location record for this very rare species! The following year we counted over 100 and I was determined to do whatever I could to help secure their future in our hamlet and beyond.

The Rare Beetle Lifecycle and Thatch

In early May the adults emerge from pupa and leave the thatch larval habitat. For the next six or so weeks they feed on pollen and mate on grass heads. The females then lay their eggs in dry thatch habitat. These eggs hatch into beetle larvae – little predators that likely eat the food stores and larvae of other invertebrates in the thatch until becoming pupa and developing into adults the following spring.

Jilly’s Thatched Roof and Thatcher

It has always been a dream of mine to learn to thatch and in Clavering we are lucky to have a very talented local Master Thatcher in James Carter who humoured me and my interest in thatching. I helped him stook up his longstraw (which he harvests with an old Ransomes reaper-binder and threshing machine) and he showed me how to yelm after threshing. He then showed me how to thatch the two pallets I had screwed together to form a makeshift roof. I learned that twisting split hazel spas requires giant strong hands which I sadly don’t have! He then kindly finished it off and delivered it to my garden on his forklift. He went above and beyond the call of duty for two big thatch groupies (a tiny rare beetle and me!).

Jilly’s Garden

I leave the grass here to grow long until July as the beetles need long grass and pollen close to the larval habitat as they don’t fly far. I never use chemicals in my garden or thatch. I am creating other thatched and bamboo structures around the garden although sadly not to quite the same standard as James! I have attracted lots of solitary bees through these kind of bug hotels and I saw my first leaf cutter bees had moved in today. I plan to create another thatched ‘natural hive’ for wild honeybees soon. Gardeners World came to film here this summer and were very interested in the bug hotels and the ponds I have created. I’m keen to raise the awareness of the beetle in the hope that we might find more colonies exist around the country. Wildlife gardening is such a joy and I open my garden for the National Garden Scheme as I love sharing the things I do and learn here.

It turns out that not only is thatch a sustainable material with good insulating qualities but thatched roofs are essentially giant bug hotels – offering habitat to numerous species of invertebrates and the birds which predate them.

How You Can Help Jilly and the Rare Beetles

Thank you for reading this article on the rare beetle.  Thank you to Jilly for her help in writing this article too.

Who knew that the Scarlet Malachite Beetle is found in areas with thatch and long grass nearby? And the importance of this habitat.

If you have seen one of these rare beetles, please email us with your contact details and location and we will pass this information on to Jilly.  She or someone from the team will be in touch with you. Jilly is also keen to create more thatched structures for her garden and the local greens where the beetle numbers have been dwindling in recent years. Please get in touch if you can volunteer to help!

Amazing how an initial conversation on one thatch topic can evolve.  More #workingtogether and this time not just for thatch but for this Scarlet Malachite rare beetle which utilises the thatch.

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