BEETLES OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA: EASTERN HERCULES BEETLE

By Arthur V. Evans

The eastern Hercules beetle, Dynastes tityus (Linnaeus) (40.0 to 60.0 mm) is a large, spectacular olive-green animal mottled with irregular black spots. Well-hydrated individuals, especially those feeding or have just fed, are sometimes almost completely dark.

Male eastern Hercules beetle, Dynastes tityus (Linnaeus) (40-60 mm).

Males have a single horn on the head that is held in apposition to the largest of three on the pronotum. Together, these horns are used like forceps to dislodge rival males from sapping spots on the branches of ash trees. These sapping spots provide food for both sexes and are created by males specifically to attract hornless females.

Eastern Hercules beetles are found throughout much of eastern United States, from New York south to Florida, west to southern Illinois, western Arkansas, and eastern Texas. Both sexes are often encountered at lights, but seldom in numbers. However, large numbers of individuals are reported aggregating on ash (Fraxinus) or in tree holes used as breeding sites.

Larvae of eastern Hercules beetles.

The larvae develop and feed on rotting wood of various hardwoods, especially oaks, and occasionally pine. Large tree holes are sometimes used continuously as breeding sites year after year where the larvae feed on damaged rotten and crumbling heartwood; no harm is done to living trees. Their dark, rectangular fecal pellets are quite distinctive.

Pupa of a male eastern Hercules beetle.

The entire life cycle of eastern Hercules beetles may take two or three years, depending on conditions. Adults live several months in captivity on a diet of soft fruits cotton balls saturated with a 1:1 solution of water and maple syrup.

© 2010, A.V. Evans

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20 Responses to “BEETLES OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA: EASTERN HERCULES BEETLE”

  1. so I just found one of these beetles on my porch at my home in Stanley, NC. Just outside of Charlotte.. Is this a common beetle for this area. I scooped it up and released it on our tree, should I be concernd that I may have more and are they safe if my dogs or my child get a hold of one???

    • Eastern Hercules beetles can be common in woods throughout eastern North America. They are not aggressive and are harmless to children and animals, although a male can sometimes give a good pinch with those horns if carelessly handled. Both males and females have powerful legs with sharp claws, too, but these come into play only if handled.

  2. So then what i have is 2 hornless females i found them dead in a Field one of them is almost all the way dark and the other one is a light green but still dark color with the black spots on the shell.

    I never once seen these until last year when i found the 2 dead ones i knew there was small beetles but i was really surprised to find these 2 i have now and i even found a live one it was blackish blue and was a different shape to it, it had one horn really it found me the beetle flew into my forehead.

  3. I seen one yesterday while going inside the bank in Wadesboro,NC. It was crawling up the brick wall. I got a picture of it. Are these harmful to plants? What are they good for?

    • Eastern Hercules beetles are not harmful to plants or pets. Aside from being just darn interesting, the larvae help breakdown dead wood and make its nutrients available to other organisms. Further, the larvae themselves occasionally fall prey to other animals.

  4. Victoria Says:

    I found a male and a female at a gas station in Summerfield, North Carolina!

  5. Cynthia Says:

    My mother found one outside our basement door.

  6. Nikki Gualandi Says:

    I found one on my sidewalk this evening in southern Illinois. I almost stepped on it. Scared the crap out of me too. These beetles are HUGE! should I let it go in the woods on my property or just set it loose in the yard somewhere I wont step on it?

  7. My daughter is asking for Hercules Beetles to live with her madagascar hissing cockroaches – can they share the same habitat, or will the males compete? thanks!

  8. I just found a unicorn beetle in Fairfax, Virginia. This is a very cool looking bug & Huge. I moved it out of the street and took a picture. I have never seen a beetle this big in our neck of the woods.

  9. These things just look crazy..we saw three of them this evening, they were crashing into the barn due to our light..we saw two males and a female..I didn’t know they could fly!!! So glad to know they are harmless and in fact good for u, thank you for the much needed piece of mind!!

  10. Found one this morning in Annapolis Junction, MD. Absolutely beautiful. My first thought was someone dropped a sea shell from a collection. Shiny outer shell!

  11. Just found a female in my driveway near Yellville, Arkansas. Incredible animal–glad to have seen it and learned about this critter that I didn’t even know existed before tonight!

  12. Jennifer Says:

    Are the eastern Hercules beetles threatened or endangered?

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