Abstract The stag beetle, Lucanus cervus, is Britain’s largest beetle, with a patchy distribution in southern England. The literature suggests that it displays exceptional size variation, particularly in the males, but no analysis of size inequality has ever been conducted. In the present study, stag beetle adults are measured and allometric relationships derived between various parameters and total body length. Most of the specimens found each year are fragments and head width can be used as a good predictor of total body length in each sex. Body size differs between years and between localities and male beetles show a greater degree of size inequality than females. However, L. cervus does not show greater inequality in size than many other beetle species and populations of males are composed of a relatively large number of small individuals. These males are not at a disadvantage in mating because it is the ratio of male : female size that determines mating success. Very large males are less successful in mating and it is suggested that lack of mating success may act as an additional constraint on mandible size in this species. Size variation is most likely caused by variation in larval food resources, coupled with variation in local climatic conditions.