Credit Chris Guggiari-Peel

Titan beetle at Cambridge University Museum of Zoology. Image courtesy of Chris Guggiari-Peel

Exeter filmmaker to investigate mysterious beetle

The mysterious life of the world’s biggest beetle will be the focus of a new documentary by an Exeter filmmaker. 

Chris Guggiari-Peel, who works as a bee technician at the University of Exeter, will join two researchers on their trip to French Guiana in South America to document the attempt to understand the behaviour of titan beetles – the world’s largest beetle.

Despite being highly valued by collectors, very little is known about the biology of titan beetles.

The documentary, Cash of the Titans, will follow ecologist Laura Kor and Eleanor Drinkwater, a PhD student from the University of York, on their expedition to improve the scientific understanding of these beetles.

Working from a lodge in the heart of the rainforest, the team plan to catch the titan beetles at night using a UV lamp. They will then attach a 1g radio tag to each beetle to track them through the jungle, enabling them to study the beetles’ behaviour and hopefully, for the first time ever, find live larvae.

If they are successful, this will be the first time movement patterns of titan beetles have been recorded – and it may also allow a better understanding of areas where beetles are trapped by people who sell them to collectors.

Chris will also be making a second documentary that will explore the intricacies of the international invertebrate trade and investigate why people collect these beetles.

Part of the research will be conducted before the expedition through a series of interviews and surveys with collectors.

“Our project has fantastic potential as so little is actually known about this species,” said Chris. 

“The larval stage of the beetle has never been found and photographed. If we were to do so, it would contribute greatly to research on the species by revealing unknown facts about their life history.

"Anything that we find could contribute greatly to the survival of titan beetles and hopefully start a wider conversation about the global trade in insects.

“Everything that we face and overcome during the trip will be documented in the film, which we hope will inspire younger people to become scientists and contribute to conservation. “

Chris is an independent filmmaker working on projects around his role at Exeter.

Whilst studying for his MSc in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology at the University of Exeter, Chris made a short documentary in South Africa about the resident de-horned Southern white rhinos and the role that the local anti-poaching team plays in their protection. The film was nominated for the 2017 Limelight Film Awards Best Short Documentary.

In 2017, through his start-up filmmaking company Farsight Conservation, Chris won a grant to produce a series of short films about the threats facing the survival of forest elephants in Nigeria.

The latest expedition begins on 28 December. To find out more, visit https://expeditiontitan.wixsite.com/titans

Date: 19 December 2018

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