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July-September 1999

Rhinoceros and Stag Beetles

Japan's warm, humid summer nurtures a diverse cast of insects, including cicadas, dragonflies, butterflies, ladybugs, long-horned beetles, and the Japanese gold beetle. And many elementary and middle school students--mostly boys--devote a good part of their summer vacation to collecting these creatures. The bugs are popular subjects for summer homework and individual research projects. The two biggest favorites are the Japanese rhinoceros beetle and the stag beetle.

The Japanese rhinoceros beetle has a thick, oval-shaped body and a glossy black-brown sheen. Its length ranges from 3.5 to 5.5 centimeters (1.4 to 2.2 inches). The male is characterized by a prominent Y-shaped horn sticking out of its head.

The stag beetle is a genus name for beetles with a flat body. It has jagged lower jaws that resemble a stag's antlers poking out of its long head segment. There are many varieties of the stag beetle (39 in Japan alone); the largest of these can grow to as long as 8 centimeters (3.1 inches).

Catching these beetles is easy. All you have to do is go to a wooded area with lots of oak trees early in the morning and find a tree that has sap coming out of its trunk. Many insects come to feed off of this sap, so there's a good chance that you'll find rhinoceros and stag beetles among them.

How do children who live in the city with few wooded areas get their beetles? The answer is simple for them, too. They go to the department store! Many of the outlets sell a wide variety of insects.

One large department store in Tokyo sells Japanese rhinoceros beetles for about 800 yen (7.60 U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar) for a male and 300 yen (2.90 dollars) for a female. For the stag beetle, the price is around 1,000 yen (9.50 dollars) for males and 300 yen for females. The reason stag beetles cost more is because they live for up to five years, compared to the Japanese rhinoceros beetle, which hatches in early summer and dies in the fall. And since the females do not have horns or big jaws, the males tend to be more popular--and therefore about twice as expensive.

The largest type of stag beetle in Japan is called o-kuwagata. These are popular not just with kids but adults, too; a 7.5-centimeter (3-inch) beetle of this type sells for anywhere from 40,000 to 150,000 yen (380 to 1,430 dollars), depending on whether its has been bred or is from the wild and on other factors. The larger ones are sometimes called "black diamonds," and those close to 8 centimeters (3.1 inches)--even if they have been bred by humans--can fetch several million yen (tens of thousands of dollars).

Recently wholesalers that breed and sell these beetles have been increasing. And in some areas like Miyazaki and Gifu Prefectures, one can now find vending machines selling these insects. Some people, though, think that this isn't a good idea, since it encourages people to take the value of life lightly.

Photos: (From top) The Japanese rhinoceros beetle (Kouichi Tanaki); the o-kuwagata, or great stag beetle (Shouji Tsurusaki); a bunch of Japanese rhinoceros beetles, including some hornless females, gather on a sappy tree trunk (Kouichi Tanaki).