Black snail beetle

A further dive into the depths of our species lists has dredged up a black snail beetle (Phosphuga atrata).

Black snail beetles are common and widespread in the UK but, because they are nocturnal, they are seldom seen. They thrive in damp places, typically deciduous woodland borders and low lying grassland, which makes the reserve perfect for them.

The adults can live several years and are active summer and winter. At this time of year, during daylight hours, look for them under the bark of fallen wood or among the leaf litter and debris on the woodland floor. At night they are out and about hunting snails.

The beetle climbs onto the snail’s shell and bites it behind its head. The snail, under attack, withdraws into its shell and secretes a protective mucus plug. But the beetle sprays a digestive fluid into the shell which dissolves both the mucus plug and the snail’s tissues. With its narrow head and elongated neck, the beetle can reach right into the snail’s shell and begin feeding on it while it is liquefying, sometimes while it is still alive: wriggling snail soup!

There are all kinds of dramas going on out there in our winter woodland.

Header image: black snail beetle by Magnefl (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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