Monday, October 19, 2015

The Devil's Coach Horse

The devil’s coach-horse is an unusual looking beetle as unlike most other beetles it’s wings do not completely cover its abdomen.

It is a relatively large beetle common throughout most of Europe, including Malta, but not often seen as it spends most of the day hidden under a stone or under vegetation and is active mostly during the night.

It is a predatory species hunting invertebrates such as worms and woodlice and carrion. It seizes its prey in its strong jaws and uses its front legs to cut off pieces of flesh which it masticates into a bolus before swallowing it. Having a devil’s coach-horse in your garden is good as like other predators it helps to keep pests under control.

I have not found any information about the biology of this species in the Maltese islands. In the rest of Europe in autumn it lays eggs in the soil which hatch about one month later. The young live mostly under the soil surface. Their feeding behaviour is similar to that of the adults.
In Irish mythology the name devil’s coach-horse ate sinners and could cast a curse by raising its abdomen.

In Maltese the devil’s coach-horse is known as Katarina-għolli-denbek (Catherine raise your tail). The name comes from this insect’s habit of raising its abdomen like a scorpion when it feels threatened. This habit has given rise to another English name, cock-tail while its association with corruption and the devil gave rise to other names such devil's footman, devil's coachman and devil's steed.

The devil’s coach-horse belongs to the rove beetle family, a large family represented in Malta by about one hundred and seventy species including one known in Maltese as kappillan.

The devil’s coach-horse does not sting but it has strong pincer-like jaws with which it can bite if handled from the wrong end. It also has a pair of glands on its abdomen which they emit a odorous liquid strong enough to warn potential predators to back off.  

This article was published in the Times of Malta on 18 December 2014.

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