Tiny cottages aid beetle research
Conservationists have built miniature "thatched cottages" in a bid to save a rare beetle.
The scarlet malachite beetle is thought to use the thatch of real country cottages to lay eggs and hatch out its pink grub-like young, but exactly how it uses the thatch is still a mystery, wildlife experts said.
The thatched cottages need to be close to meadows with flowering grasses and good supplies of pollen.
The beetle, which was once widespread across southern Britain, is now only known to inhabit a handful of sites in the New Forest and Essex and conservationists fear it has been one of the worst victims of changes to traditional rural life.
Wildlife charity Buglife has built small structures that replicate the thatch of country cottages at the edges of a farmer's field in Essex in a bid to conserve the species and find out more about its life cycle.
Vicky Kindemba, Buglife's conservation delivery manager, said she hoped that eventually more beetle cottages could be built at the edges of meadows in key locations for the bug.
"If the beetle is found to successfully use them for breeding, the miniature cottages could be the key to their survival," she said.
The project is funded by Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust and is being run in collaboration with Ian Hughes of natural history company Lifeforms.
Mr Hughes has successfully reared an adult Scarlet malachite beetle in captivity for the first time and has designed the beetle cottages.
He said: "We have built Scarlet malachite beetle cottages' - logpiles with thatched roofs - to encourage the beetle to use them so we can fathom out their diet during the early larval stages without damaging existing roofs."