Country diary: the strange beauty of a woodland beetle

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Weardale, County Durham: The sun has warmed up the woodland and brought the insects to life

As I emerged from the deep shade of the riverbank woodland, it was pleasant to feel the warmth of the sun on my back again. Over on a nearby fence post, a Rhagium mordax, an inch long, seemed to be luxuriating in its heat too. This recently hatched longhorn beetle had just spent two years as a grub, tunnelling under the bark of a dead tree, subsisting on a diet of decaying wood.

It allowed me to approach within a few inches, close enough to admire its mottled brown and black wing cases, flecked with gold. Then it turned aggressively to face the camera lens. There is something unsettling about the agitated movements of these beetles, with their twitching antennae and long, articulated limbs. Maybe it harks back to childhood memories of watching the jerky stop-motion animation of the sword-fighting skeletons in the 1963 cult film Jason and the Argonauts.

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