Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle Bite: Is it Poisonous? – Facts & Myths Uncovered

The devil’s coach horse beetle is a fascinating creature that often sparks curiosity due to its striking appearance and large pincers. Surprisingly, it is not known for delivering poisonous bites. However, the beetle’s bite can be quite painful for humans, and its defensive behavior may cause alarm.

When the devil’s coach horse beetle feels threatened, it raises its abdomen, mimicking the appearance of a scorpion. While the beetle does not have a stinger or venom like a scorpion, its strong pincers can deliver a pinch that is painful but not poisonous.

Some features of devil’s coach horse beetle include:

  • Black, elongated body (up to 1 inch in length)
  • Large pincers at the front of its head
  • Wings hidden under wing covers
  • Omnivorous diet, feeding on other insects and small invertebrates

Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle Overview

Description and Identification

The Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle, also known as Ocypus olens, is a member of the rove beetle family, Staphylinidae. It is a long-bodied, black beetle with unique features:

  • Elytra: Covers only a small portion of the abdomen
  • Thorax: A narrow area connecting the head and abdomen
  • Abdominal segments: 7 in total, capable of being raised like a scorpion’s tail

In comparison to other beetles in its family, the Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle stands out due to its defensive posture and menacing appearance.

Natural Habitat

This beetle species originally hails from Europe, namely the UK and Ireland. However, it has since been introduced to North America, where it has successfully established itself.

These beetles predominantly thrive in:

  • Gardens
  • Woodlands
  • Hedgerows

The Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle is an adaptable species that can be found in various environments, indicating its versatile nature.

Is the Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle Poisonous?

The Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle is not considered poisonous to humans. However, its bite can be a bit painful. Some important features of this beetle include:

  • Bite: While not venomous, the bite can cause temporary discomfort.
  • Harmless: Overall, the beetle is harmless to humans and domestic animals.
  • Sting: No reported stinging capability.
  • Comparison: Compared to other beetles, the Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle is less harmful due to the lack of poison and mild bite.

Comparison Table:

Characteristic Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle Other Beetles
Bite Painful, but not venomous Varies
Sting None Varies
Harmless Yes Varies

Remember, while the Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle might cause temporary discomfort with its bite, it is generally harmless and not venomous. It is important to exercise caution when handling any insects or wild animals to prevent unnecessary injuries.

Behavior and Diet

Predatory Habits

The Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle is a powerful predator known to help maintain a healthy garden by preying on insects. Examples of common prey include:

  • Slugs
  • Worms
  • Woodlice
  • Invertebrates
  • Caterpillars

Adult Devil’s Coach Horse Beetles have pincer-like jaws, allowing them to capture and consume their prey efficiently. Their presence in gardens is often welcomed as they control other unwelcome pests.

Reproduction

Devil’s Coach Horse Beetles lay their eggs in various habitats such as soil, leaf litter, and compost heaps. Once the larvae hatch, they continue to exhibit predatory behaviors, even feeding on fly maggots in rotting items.

As well as being found in gardens, these beetles are also native to woodland habitats throughout northern Africa. While they are primarily considered beneficial predators, it is essential to be aware that their bite can be painful to humans if threatened.

Interaction with Humans and Gardens

Benefits of Devil’s Coach Horse Beetles

  • Pest control: Devil’s Coach Horse Beetles are known for their abilities in controlling pests. They are natural predators of various insects, including slugs, spiders, and other small, soil-dwelling pests found in gardens, grasslands, and moss areas.
  • Biodiversity: They contribute to biodiversity in gardens, as they are part of diverse families of animals, including more than 1,000 species in the UK alone, found in woodlands, parks, heath, moorland, and hedgerows.
  • Resilience: These beetles can survive damp conditions and adapt to various habitats like parks, gardens, hedgerows, and woodlands. This makes them low-maintenance and ideal for natural pest control in various environments.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Appearance: Devil’s Coach Horse Beetles are often associated with evil in the Middle Ages due to their distinctive black color, raised abdomen and aggressive appearance. This might cause discomfort to some people who encounter them in their gardens.
  • Odor: The beetles possess white glands under their abdomen, capable of emitting a foul-smelling odor as a defense mechanism. This may be unpleasant to humans and pets in close proximity.
  • Bites: While bites are rare, a Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle can bite when threatened. However, it is essential to note that their bites are not poisonous.
Feature Devils’s Coach Horse Beetle
Pest control Good for the garden, preying on slugs, spiders, and other pests
Adaptability Can survive in damp conditions and diverse habitats
Biodiversity Contributes to the ecosystem and supports diverse families
Potential harm Bites are non-poisonous but may cause discomfort
Unpleasant odor Emits foul-smelling odor from white stinking glands beneath the abdomen

In conclusion, the Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle serves as a beneficial partner for gardens, providing natural pest control with minimal drawbacks. While their bites are not poisonous, handling them with care is recommended due to their defensive behaviors.

Defensive Mechanisms

The devil’s coach horse beetle is known for its unique defensive mechanisms. One of its primary defense strategies involves emitting a foul-smelling odor.

  • Foul-smelling odour
  • Defensive secretion

This beetle produces a defensive secretion that is released from its abdomen when threatened. This secretion is a foul-smelling substance which effectively deters potential predators.

  • Foul-smelling substance

In terms of biting, the devil’s coach horse beetle does not have a venomous bite. However, the bite can be quite painful and may cause discomfort.

  • Non-venomous bite
  • Painful and discomforting

To give you an idea of its defensive capabilities, let’s compare the devil’s coach horse beetle to another well-known insect with similar defensive strategies:

Insect Foul-smelling Odor Defensive Secretion Venomous Bite
Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle Yes Yes No
Stink Bug Yes No No

As you can see from the table, the devil’s coach horse beetle and stink bug share the ability to produce a foul-smelling odor but only the devil’s coach horse has a defensive secretion. Both insects, however, lack venomous bites.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Rove Beetle from Australia is Devil’s Coach Horse

 

Subject:  Beetle identification
Geographic location of the bug:  Perth- western australia
Date: 09/01/2018
Time: 02:56 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Bug was found in lawn when removing african beetles.
Is over 6mm in length.
Wondering what the beetle is and if it is destructive to plants or harmful to pets
How you want your letter signed:  Regards, Daniel Jones

Devil’s Coach Horse

Dear Daniel,
Because of its red head, this is an amazing looking Rove Beetle in the family Staphylinidae, and we identified it as
Creophilus erythrocephalus, commonly called a Devil’s Coach Horse, thanks to images on Wild South Australia.  According to Museums Victoria:  “Devil’s Coach Horses eat maggots (fly larvae) and are usually found living in rotting animal carcasses.”  While that might seem unsavory, we would consider them beneficial as they help to control Fly populations.  The species is also pictured on Atlas of Living Australia.  The common name Devil’s Coach Horse is also used with a European species of Rove Beetle that has naturalized in North America.  This Devil’s Coach Horse does not look like it died of natural causes, so we are tagging this posting as Unnecessary Carnage.

Devil’s Coach Horse

Letter 2 – Devil's Coachhorse in Belgium

 

schorpion like bug
Location: Belgium, brussels area
October 17, 2011 12:29 pm
Dear,
This small bug was found in Brussels Belgium, 19th of september.
It seems to try and defend itself by lifting up his tail above his head (like a scorpion). Some white secretion could be seen at the end of the tail next to ,what I believe is, the stinger.
Signature: Bram

Devil's Coachhorse

Greetings Bram,
This European Rove Beetle has become naturalized in parts of North America where it is known by the diabolical name Devil’s Coachhorse.  Though it has struck a threatening pose, the Devil’s Coachhorse is not a venomous insect.  The threat posture is often accompanied by the release of a foul odor from the white scent glands in the abdomen you mentioned.  The Devil’s Coachhorse is a predatory species that will eat snails and slugs in the garden.

Thanks alot!
We found it quite funny lifting up its tail like that, hope he’s still around somwhere in the garden hunting snails!
Bram

Letter 3 – Devil’s Coachhorse from Morocco

 

Subject: Strangest bug I’ve ever seen
Location: Casablanca, Morocco
April 17, 2015 1:01 pm
Hi!
I was just wondering if anyone knew what this lovely looking insect was. It flew into my window then crawled up the wall.
Any help will be appreciated
Signature: Charlie

Devil's Coachhorse
Devil’s Coachhorse

Hi Charlie,
Though it does not look like a typical Beetle, this Rove Beetle in the genus
Ocypus is commonly called a Devil’s Coachhorse.  According to BugGuide, members of the genus are:  “native to the Old World (Eurasia & Africa), adventive in NA (2 spp. along the Pacific Coast + 2 in ne. US).”  The Devil’s Coachhorse is one of the few predators that will feed on snails, so they are welcome in our Los Angles garden where we occasionally encounter them.  TrekNature provides this information:  “Distribution: originally in great part of Europe and NW Africa, introduced to N America, Asia and Australia.” TrekNature also provides this interesting etomological information:  “English name: – devil’s coach-horse beetle comes from stories from the Middle Ages when this species has [b]een associated with Devil for the first time. Thanks to its black colouration, huge mandibles and night period of activity people believed that the Devil assumes the form of this beetle to eat sinners. Some other common names of this beetle are: Devil’s beast, Devil’s footman, Devil’s coachman and Devil’s steed.”  The Devil’s Coachhorse often strikes a threat posture when disturbed, and though it can release a foul odor (also associated with the devil), it is perfectly harmless to humans.

Letter 4 – Devil’s Coachhorse

 

Subject: Black ant or wasp?
Location: MOunt Washinton/Los Angeles, Calif.
October 30, 2016 9:29 pm
Found this in my house on Mount Washington today. Don’t recall ever seeing one like this in the area in 50+ years living up here, but I do recall seeing them in more arid desert and forest areas of the Southwest. I just had guests from Henderson Nevada this weekend and suspect that it is a traveler from their belongings. I have it saved in a jar and is close to expiring when I came across it.
Thank you.
Signature: Rene Zambrano

Devil's Coachhorse
Devil’s Coachhorse

Dear Rene,
Though it does not look very beetle-like, this Devil’s Coachhorse is actually a Rove Beetle.  The Devil’s Coachhorse is a European species not native to North America, but it was probably introduced as far back as the 1930s and it is very well established.  We have frequent sightings of Devil’s Coachhorses in our own Mount Washington garden where they are eagerly welcomed as they are one of the few predators that will eat non-native snails and slugs.  When threatened, the Devil’s Coachhorse rears up its abdomen like a scorpion and releases a foul smell, but it is a harmless species.

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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