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the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Carabidae (ground beetles)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Arthopoda > Mandibulata > Atelocerata > Panhexapoda > Hexapoda > Insecta (insects) > Dicondyla > Pterygota > Metapterygota > Neoptera > Eumetabola > Holometabola > Coleoptera (beetles) > Suborder: Adephaga

A large family with about 289 genera and 1638 species in southern Africa. Species are predominantly ground-dwelling predators. Usually black or brown and some such as Graphipterus, are beige and black patterned. The head is flattened with powerful, forward-facing jaws. They are well adapted predators with large eyes and long, strong legs. While most are opportunistic hunters, some, eg. Harpalus,  have largely a vegetarian diet.

Most are terrestrial (ground living) and flightless and the elytra are fused. Arboreal (tree living) species are capable of flight. They occupy various habitats on the ground - moist places, stream banks, under leaf litter, open sandy patches, under bushes, grass and stones. Cave dwellers are blind or have rudimentary eyes.

They rely on speed and agility for defence. Their most powerful defence mechanism is a chemical that is secreted in a pygidial gland in the area of the ninth abdominal segment. It is made up of concentrated organic acids or quinone and is squirted at an attacker in a strong jet. Anthia can spray a jet of formic acid up to 30cm and it is said to cause blindness in cats and chickens.

Eggs are generally laid in the soil. Larvae are active and free-living with well developed legs for burrowing or running. They are the longest living beetles and can live for up to 4 years.

This family includes 30 or more subfamilies some of the larger ones being Anthiinae, Brachininae, Cicindelinae, Claeniinae, Harpalinae, Lebiinae, Paussinae, Pterostichinae, Scaritinae.

Some subfamilies, genera and species from southern Africa

Subfamily: Anthiinae

Subfamily: Carabinae

Subfamily: Chlaeniinae

Subfamily: Cicindelinae

Subfamily: Graphipterinae


Subfamily: Harpalinae

Subfamily: Panagaeinae

Subfamily: Paussinae


Subfamily: Scaritinae

Carabidae larva



  • Basilewsky, P. 1950. Revision générale des Harpalinae d'Afrique et de Madagascar (Coleoptera, Carabidae). Annales de Musée Royal du Congo Belge. Série in Octavo 6: 8-283; 9: 7-333.

  • Basilewsky, P. 1954. Revision des genres Hystrichopus Boheman et Plagiopyga Boheman. (Coleoptera, Carabidae, Lebiinae). Annales de Musée Royal du Congo Belge. Série in Octavo 31: 1-97.

  • Basilewsky, P. 1958. Coleoptera: Carabidae. In Hanstrom, Brinck & Rudebeck (q.v.), 5: 212-317.

  • Basilewsky, P. 1966. Révision des Megacephala d'Afrique. Annales de Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale. Série in Octavo . Zoologie 152: 1-49.

  • Basilewsky, P. 1977. Révision du genre Graphipterus Latreille (Coleoptera, Carabidae). Annales de Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale. Série in Octavo 221: 1-468.

  • Basilewsky, P. 1980. Les Reicheiina de l'Afrique du Sud (Coleoptera, Carabidae). Entomologia Generalis 6(2/4):293-302.

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