What Beetles Have Pincers? Can Beetles Pinch You?

Largest beetles - Giraffe stag beetle
Mark Brandon/Shutterstock.com

Written by Jennifer Gaeng

Updated: October 26, 2023

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Largest beetles - Giraffe stag beetle

Stag beetles

are the only known beetles to have “pincers,” which are overgrown bones in their lower jaw.

There are around 300,000 beetle species worldwide. They account for 40% of all known insect species! To keep track of all the species on the planet, scientists created a classification system where each species has a Latin name that describes it. One of the largest families of beetles, Lucanidae, contains over 1,200 species. One of these species is the stag beetle. Stag beetles are the only known beetles to have “pincers,” which are overgrown bones in their lower jaw.

What Beetles Have Pincers?

Stag Beetle-Isolated

Stag beetles are known for their large mandibles, or “pincers,” which resemble the horns of a stag deer and give the insect its popular name.

Stag beetles are known for their large mandibles, or “pincers,” which resemble the horns of a stag deer and give the insect its popular name. Stag beetles are usually black and brown, but a few are metallic green and iridescent red. The pincers are always smaller in the female stag beetles, but the females have a more powerful bite.

Despite their name, stag beetles are not dangerous or venomous. Insects are the larvae’s main food source, which they find in decaying stumps and logs. These beetles can grow to be large, ranging from 2 to 4.5 inches long.

What is the Difference Between A Pincer and A Stinger?

Certain beetles have the option of defending themselves with a stinger if they feel threatened. Stingers, as opposed to pincers, have a different mechanism of action. These beetles can produce severe pain and blister on the skin of the human body.

Beetles with stingers include:

Blister Beetles

Red Blister beetle on white background

Although rare, blister beetle bites can be lethal to humans if they cause a severe allergic reaction.

The Blister beetle is part of the 7,500 species in the Meloidae family. Their bodies are an inch long and are solid black or dark grey with a yellow stripe. They frequently eat alfalfa, tomatoes, and beets from tiny gardens. Blister beetles love light, especially on patios. This increases the chance of a human encountering the beetle. The blister beetle releases cantharidin, a deadly toxin that causes human skin to blister. Skin blistering fades away with time. Although rare, blister beetle bites can be lethal to humans if they cause a severe allergic reaction.

African Bombardier Beetle

stinkiest animals - Bombardier Beetle

The African bombardier beetle is not harmful to humans but can irritate the skin because of an irritating liquid they discharge from their abdomen.

More than five hundred African bombardier species are known to exist in the world, the African bombardier beetle being one. An explosive liquid discharge from the abdomen of Bombardier beetles serves as a protection mechanism for this tiny creature. Though not harmful to humans, this substance can irritate and burn the skin, giving the impression of an insect bite.

The Hercules Beetle

Hercules beetle (Dynastes hercules) on a moss-covered branch in Ecuador.

Hercules beetle

(Dynastes hercules) has claw-like horns used for fighting.

The Hercules beetle, or D. Hercules, is a rhinoceros beetle found in the rainforests of Central America and is one of the largest beetles in the world because of its long horns. These horns sprout from the tops of their heads and extend down to the middle of their backs. These claw-like horns are not technically a stinger or a pincer, but they are utilized for defense against predators and to compete for the attention of females. They are not utilized for pinching or for biting. The Hercules beetle vies for the crown of the largest beetle in the world and is the longest beetle alive today.

Long-horned Beetle

Long-horned beetles (Cerambycidae) are a family of 20,000 species. Long-horned beetles reach half an inch in length. Their large antennas, three times longer than their body, make them easily identifiable. Pests to firewood and natural recyclers, these creatures into decaying or dead wood. Other food sources for these beetles include pollen and nectar. A long-horned beetle can bite a person, producing swelling and intense discomfort for up to 48 hours afterward. Humans are not severely affected by the bite.

Can A Stag Beetle “Pinch” You?

Stag Beetle

Stag Beetles have jaws that are adapted for the consumption of wood, but rarely attack humans.

Despite their intimidating look, stag beetles rarely attack humans. the Stag beetle has pincers for defense against other insects. While it’s unusual that a stag beetle will bite you when held, this beetle’s inherent defense mechanism makes it possible. When it comes to human safety, male mandibles are too weak to truly harm people; nevertheless, female mandibles are petite and powerful and may deliver an extremely painful bite. While they pose little danger to humans or pets, mating season is when they might become violent to one other.

How Do Stag Beetles Use Their Pincers?

Male stag beetles use their pincers to dislodge their opponents’ tarsal claws, disturbing their equilibrium. They use their large mandibles to grapple over preferred mating places, like stags fighting over females.

Females have smaller pincers for eating, not fighting. They will burrow into the earth and lay up to twenty-one eggs. These larvae stay underground, feeding on rotting wood. In May, a larva emerges as an adult from its cocoon.

What Do Stag Beetles Eat?

The larval stage of these stag beetle species will eventually metamorphose into a cocoon. The larvae feed on decaying wood and leaves in the soil, while the adults rely on stored fat. The larvae of the stag beetle chew into the tree and feed on the decomposing wood’s juices.

The stag beetle larva feeds on dead wood for several years before maturing into an adult. Adults cannot eat solids, so they rely on fat stored in their larval phase. They will also eat sap flows, nectar, and soft fruit that has fallen to the ground.

Do Stag Beetles Fly?

Yes, Stag beetles fly. Due to their disproportionate bodies, they fly to their destination.

Yes, stag beetles fly. The fact that its mandibles can outgrow its body size is a disadvantage. Due to their disproportionate bodies, they fly to their destination. On sunny summer evenings, the adults seem to fly to the stars. Males are often spotted flying around looking for a partner. With their antler-like pincers, they can engage in a battle with other males to win over the female. Female beetles, despite being able to fly, are mostly found on the ground.

What Other Kinds of Bugs Have Pincers?

The forceps on an earwig are located at the rear of its abdomen instead of on its head.

Besides the stag beetle, there is another insect with pincers that has actually earned the nickname “pincer bug.” The earwig (Forficula auricularia) is a nocturnal insect that owns a pair of distinctive pincers located behind its abdomen (rather than in the front like the stag beetle). The pincers, or forceps, serve multiple purposes. They can be used to defend the earwig from predators or in combat with each other. The pincers can also be used to catch prey. Thirdly, the pincers are utilized in mating rituals between males and females. The male earwig’s pincers are larger than the female’s.

The pincers on an earwig are not dangerous to humans, although the bug can pinch you with them if you handle it. Old folklore suggested that earwigs are capable of crawling into a human’s ears to lay eggs or bore into one’s brain. This horror is not true. For all practical intent, these bugs feed on plants and dead animal material. They do often show up in one’s home. If you’re facing a possible infestation, it’s best to consult a professional about it.


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About the Author

Jennifer Gaeng is a writer at A-Z-Animals focused on animals, lakes, and fishing. With over 15 years of collective experience in writing and researching, Jennifer has honed her skills in various niches, including nature, animals, family care, and self-care. Hailing from Missouri, Jennifer finds inspiration in spending quality time with her loved ones. Her creative spirit extends beyond her writing endeavors, as she finds joy in the art of drawing and immersing herself in the beauty of nature.

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