How to identify: the Devil’s Coach Horse

Scientific name: Ocypus olens

Why are we looking for it?

Although it is widespread in the UK, its nocturnal behaviour means that it is rarely encountered. With your help, we would like to find out more about where it lives and how many there are. There is evidence that some large beetles struggle to survive in urban areas. Is this the case for the Devil’s Coach Horse?

 

Devil's Coach Horse

Identification features

  • very large beetle, around 25mm long
  • six legs
  • long, black body
  • short wing-cases (elytra), so end of body is flexible
  • rears up tail (abdomen) like a scorpion when threatened
  • large jaws - may bite to defend itself

Identification tips

Could be confused with…
Other beetles in the same family (rove beetles). They are all black with the same body shape but the Devil’s Coach Horse is the only one of this size (about 25mm long).

Where and when can I find it?
In spring and autumn across the UK in both rural and urban areas. Try looking in parks, gardens, woodland and fields. The Devil’s Coach Horse is nocturnal, so during the day it is found resting among fallen leaves or under logs and stones.

Lifestyle

The Devil’s Coach Horse is a predator, hunting other invertebrates such as slugs, woodlice and other beetles at night. Its strong legs and flexible body make it well adapted to hunting in fallen leaves and among logs and stones.

As well as using its impressive jaws, it can defend itself against predators such as birds by producing a strong unpleasant smell.

The female lays up to 200 eggs. The young (larvae) hatch out after one month and live on or just below the ground. After around five months the larvae pupate, then hatch out as adults five weeks later. The adults live for up to two years.

What does it do for us?

Both predators and prey are important in any ecosystem. The Devil’s Coach Horse eats other invertebrates, some of which may be garden pests. In doing this, it helps to reduce pest populations, recycle nutrients and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Interesting fact

Superstition has been associated with this species for hundreds of years. It’s also called the Devil’s Footman, Devil’s Coachman and Coffin Cutter. One old wives’ tale suggested that when it raised its tail it was casting a curse on you.

 

Think you've seen one?

Devil's Coach HorseTake a photo and complete our simple online form to help us learn more about their distribution.

Submit a sighting

Where have they been seen?

UK mapExplore our interactive map and see where the Devil's Coach Horse has been recorded so far.

Species Quest results map

 

Need help with identification?

Simply upload a picture of your find to iSpot or the Natural History Museum's Bug forum and an online community of experts and enthusiasts will do their best to identify it.

Visit the iSpot website

Visit the Bug forum on the Natural History Museum's website

 

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