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Cerambycidae – Longhorn Beetles

Longhorn beetles are a very popular group. The family includes some of Britain’s most spectacular beetles and there are many even more wonderful species abroad. They were the second family of beetles I got interested in after the ground beetles (Carabidae). But whereas you can find a decent range of carabid species in pretty much any habitat at any time of year, longhorn beetles are too few and far between to be anyone’s sole interest. These are predominantly beetles that develop in wood, with adults active only during the spring and summer. There seem to be exceptions to every rule with beetles and so it is with longhorns: two British species develop in the stems of umbellifers (Agapanthia villosoviridescens in Hogweed, and Phytoecia cylindrica in Bur-chervil, Cow-parsley and Wild Carrot).

Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Agapanthia villosoviridescens on Hogweed

All the longhorns that develop in wood are regarded as saproxylic beetles. And though there are some species that are truly dependent on decaying wood, there are others which could equally be regarded as phytophagous, i.e. feeding on living plant tissues. Together with the jewel beetles, they share the ability to feed on wood that is not yet decaying; they have gut symbionts that are capable of digesting lignin and/or cellulose. So in a similar way to the ambrosia bark beetles (such as the Dutch Elm disease carriers), longhorns are species that initiate the processes of decay and decomposition of trees and shrubs. In practical terms for the coleopterist in the field, this means you should be targeting early-stage saproxylic habitats for longhorns, e.g. trees or branches where the leaves are still attached but starting to turn brown.

Martin Rejzek’s chapter on the Cerambycidae in A Coleopterist’s Handbook (4th edition) is brilliant: a revolutionary improvement in our knowledge of British longhorn ecology, particularly of the immature stages.

The British Cerambycidae drawer at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Identifying longhorns is pretty straightforward using Andrew Duff’s excellent pair of papers in British Wildlife (vol. 18, number 6 (August 2007) and vol. 19, number 1 (October 2007)) with excellent illustrations by Richard Lewington. Back issues are out of print and no longer available.

Since Andrew’s papers, one or two more species have been discovered in Britain and “Leiopus nebulosus” has been split into L. nebulosus sensu stricto and L. linnei.

Semanotus russicus: found breeding in a Berkshire garden in 2007 (Mendel and Barclay, 2008).

Deilus fugax: I’ve heard it mentioned but I know nothing about it.

Leiopus nebulosus s.s. and L. linnei: split by Wallin et al. (2009). Males and females are identifiable using this excellent and detailed paper: the abstract can be viewed for free here but a subscription to Zootaxa is required to download the full paper. Or you could ask around.

Beetles which develop in wood are frequently transported as accidental passengers in timber, wooden furniture or wooden packaging. To identify such strays, the Cerambycidae website by Michael Hoscovek and Martin Rezjek would be a good starting point, with photos of most, if not all, of the Western Palaearctic species.

Every species included in Andrew’s ID papers has an English name, something which I applaud. However, Andrew didn’t mention that most of these names were invented by him. Many coleopterists have yet to adopt these English names, and some never will. So don’t be surprised if you talk about Black-and-yellow Longhorn Beetle and get blank stares from people who know it as Rutpela maculata. For the foreseeable future, anyone who wants to use the English names and be understood correctly should also give scientific names as well.

A male Timberman Acanthocinus aedilis at the Abernethy Forest sawmill. They don’t come much better!

Martin Rejzek, now based in Norwich, started with the Czech fauna, and has gone on to become an expert on the Cerambycidae of the Western Palaearctic. He runs the British national recording scheme and can be contacted via the BRC website.

The Provisional atlas of the longhorn beetles of Britain (Twinn and Harding, 1999) is now available as a free PDF download. But it is not an Atlas that has aged very well and the maps on the NBN Gateway are more comprehensive.


Mendel. H. and Barclay, M. (2008). Semanotus russicus (Fabricius, 1776) (Cerambycidae) breeding in Britain. The Coleopterist, 17, 1 – 4.

Twinn, P.F.G. and Harding, P.T. (1999). Provisional atlas of the longhorn beetles (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae) of Britain. Huntingdon: Biological Records Centre.

Wallin, H., Nylander, U. and Kvamme, T. (2009). Two sibling species of Leiopus Audinet-Serville, 1835 (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) from Europe: L. nebulosus (Linnaeus, 1758) and L. linnei sp. nov. Zootaxa, 2010: 31 – 45. [abstract online here]



  1. Andy Skinner says:

    Wallin et al. paper appears to be available at the following link


  2. Andy Skinner says:

    There’s also a paper at the following link describing host preferences of both species in Poland. Would this be of any interest?

  3. Andy Skinner says:

    Sorry I forgot the link to the Polish paper


  4. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Andy for both those links – very useful. The Wallin et al. PDF states “deposition in a … website is prohibited” so I’m a little suprised to discover that the full paper is on the web.

  5. M.E.S.Pedersen says:

    Vol. 19 “SOLD OUT” 14/2/2012.

  6. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks M.E.S., it’s still possible to order and pay for both the British Wildlife issues online today. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they haven’t sold out!

  7. Kit Sullivan says:

    I recently bought the two volumes of British Wildlife that contained the Longhorn information from abebooks. It may be worth trying there. I have also been told Amazon sells individual copies of the magazine. I hope this helps.

  8. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Kit.

  9. Mike Samworth says:

    Super website Mark, really useful. I saw a rather wonderful longhorn beetle, at a reserve I visit regularly locally to me;


    This was only first seen in this Vice-County in 2010, and when I identified it, read the usual reference to a ‘Southern species’ which always make me question something found in North Yorkshire. However, it was confirmed for me by someone who knew, and I have been trawling for info to better help me identify what I see and photograph. It is understandable that we do not have books on beetles like we have for birds, butterflies, dragonflies etc. but well set out websites like yours help enormously. As a teacher, I know only too well how important it is to walk the fine line between too comprehensive and off-putting on the one side, and too simplistic or juvenile on the other. I think you handle this very well.

    BTW, were you at Monks Wood when Brian Eversham was your boss?

    regards, Mike.

  10. markgtelfer says:

    Many thanks Mike, and glad my website is proving useful. It is in many ways an attempt to pass on what I know in the same way Brian did for me as a beginner at Monks Wood.

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