Research may lead to better life for sun beetles

Research by a Reaseheath College lecturer may lead to improved welfare and living conditions for sun beetles (Pachnoda marginata peregrina).

HE Lecturer in Animal Management James Brereton has been investigating the requirements of the sun beetle, a species widely held in zoos and private collections. No previous detailed research has been carried out on the insects’ physical and social requirements or on the suitability of current enclosures for the species.

James began the project, which is still continuing, in September 2015 and is studying his own collection and another held at Reaseheath zoo. In the first five and a half months of the trial he completed 1135 observations which included counting the number of beetles in each zone of the enclosure and whether they preferred leaf litter, live plants, fake plants or logs.

The beetles were identified by individual markings made with nail varnish. He also looked at their food preferences and their response to natural changes in temperature and UV light.

James’ results suggest that the beetles significantly increase their use of higher enclosure areas in response to UV light and that their activity levels increase in response to higher temperatures. He also found that some survived for over 10 months when it was previously thought they only have a life expectancy of five months. His studies unearthed the fact that the beetles spend an average of 34% of their lives below ground, a fact not previously appreciated.

The implications are that sun beetles will be more active and of more interest to the public if they have basking light in their enclosure, and that providing UV light may increase animal welfare.

James has presented the results of his project and how these could affect best practice to over 200 professionals at the Association of British and Irish Wild Animal Keepers (ABWAK) annual conference and to over 80 specialists at the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) Research Conference. Some attendees were so interested in his findings that they are considering setting up their own research projects.

He is continuing to investigate the social behaviour and preferred food of this understudied species and has already found evidence that the beetles have individual characters and that they form social bonds. He is currently writing up the data and hopes to publish next year.

James is hoping that his research will help to change the public’s perception of sun beetles, as well as improving the care of captive collections.

He points out: “We know a lot about large mammals and birds but not a lot about smaller species, which can be equally fascinating. The more we learn about them, the more able we are to provide them with relevant accommodation and nutrition.

“Enclosure design has developed into a science and has become a key study area. There is a need for evidence-based enclosures which reflect the biological needs of their inhabitants. Hopefully my research will lead to improved enclosure design and better care for sun beetles in the future.”