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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Order: Coleoptera (beetles)

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

Classification of beetles encountered in southern Africa


Worldwide, there are three families in the Archostemata, of which two occur in southern Africa. The third family, Ommatidae, is only known from Australia. There are two known species in the suborder from southern Africa: Cupes capensis (Cupedidae), which is indigenous, and Micromalthus debilis (Micromalthidae), which is an introduced species from the USA. Larvae of this suborder are all known to be borers into rotten logs and fungus. 


Tiny beetles (< 2 mm long) that are associated with aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats. There are about 60 described species worldwide, of which less than 10 occur in southern Africa, falling into the following families: Hydroscaphidae, Microsporidae, Torridincolidae (torrent beetles) and Sphaeriidae.  



The main characteristics that distinguish this taxon from the other three at the same level: 

(1) the first visible abdominal sternite (segment closest to the thorax) is divided in two by the coxae (the basal section of the hind leg). 

(2) the wings at rest are not rolled.

(3) presence of a notopleural suture (a join or seam between the top and bottom of the thorax).

There are about 2005 species in southern Africa, of which 82% are in the Carabidae (ground beetles). The remaining five families are all aquatic: Aspidytidae,  Dytiscidae (water beetles), Gyrinidae (whirligig beetles), Haliplidae and Rhysodidae.


This suborder includes the majority beetle families. The main characteristics are:

(1) The first abdominal sternite (segment closest the thorax) not divided by the hind coxae, the bases of the hind legs.

2) Absence of a notopleural suture (a join or seam between the top and bottom of the thorax).


Superfamily: Bostrychoidea

Includes the families: Anobiidae, Bostrychidae, Ptinidae and Lyctidae.


Superfamily: Buprestoidea

Single family: Buprestidae (jewel beetles).


Superfamily: Byrrhoidea

Single family: Byrridae.


Superfamily: Cantharoidea

Includes the following families: Cantharidae, Drilidae, Lampyridae (fireflies, glow worms, and Lycidae (net-winged beetles).


Superfamily: Chrysomeloidea

Two families: Cerambycidae (longicorn beetles, timber beetles) and Chrysomelidae (leaf beetles). The Chrysomelidae includes the bruchid beetles (previously in the family Bruchidae but now in the subfamily Bruchinae).


Superfamily: Cleroidea

Includes the following families: Cleridae (chequered beetles), Melyridae (soft-winged flower beetles) and Trogossitidae (gnawing beetles)


Superfamily: Cucujoidea

There are many families, including amongst others: Anthicidae, Coccinellidae (ladybirds), Discolomatidae, Meloidae (blister beetles), Nitidulidae, Rhipiphoridae and Tenebrionidae (darkling beetles, toktokkies).


Superfamily: Curculionoidea

Includes the following families: Anthribidae, Apionidae, Attelabidae, Brachyceridae, Brentidae, Curculionidae and  Dryophthoridae


Superfamily: Dascilloidea

Two families: Dascillidae and Rhipiceridae (parasitic comb beetles).


Superfamily: Dermestoidea

Two families: Dermestidae (hide beetles, museum beetles) and Thorictidae.


Superfamily: Dryopoidea

Includes the following families: Dryopidae, Elmidae, Heteroceridae and Limnichidae


Superfamily: Elateroidea

Includes the following families: Elateridae (click beetles), Eucnemidae and Throscidae.


Superfamily: Eucinetoidea

Small beetles found in decaying plant matter. There are about 10 species with names known from southern Africa but a number of others in museum collections that are awaiting description. All three families in the superfamily have been recorded from southern Africa: Clambidae, Eucinetidae and Helodidae.


Superfamily: Histeroidea

One family: Histeridae (steel beetles, hister beetles). Histerids are usually black, with elytra not covering the entire abdomen. The are found mainly in decaying organic matter such as dung, dead animals and leaf litter. There are also species that live in termite colonies (termitophilous) and others that live in ant nests (myrmecophilous). Adults and larvae are mainly predators on larvae of beetles and flies but there are species that eat fungal spores.


Superfamily: Hydrophiloidea

There are five families, all of which are found in southern Africa: Georyssidae, Hydraenidae, Hydrochidae, Hydrophilidae and Spercheidae. Four of them include exclusively aquatic species while in the largest family - the Hydrophilidae - there are both aquatic and terrestrial representatives. One of the characterisics of the family is that in most species the maxillary palps are as long or longer than the antennae. There are roughly 100 species of Hydrophiloidea with names known from southern Africa. Includes the following families:


Superfamily: Lymexyloidea

One family: Lymexylidae (ship-timber beetles).


Superfamily: Scarabaeoidea

Includes the following families: Acanthoceridae, Geotrupidae, Hybosoridae, Lucanidae, Passalidae, Scarabaeidae and Trogidae

Scarabaeidae, Cetoniinae

Superfamily: Staphylinoidea

A diverse group of beetles that live mainly in decaying organic matter. Some are specialised to live in ant and termite nests. The majority of species are either predators or feed on fungi but some species have other food preferences.  Approximately 1380 species with names are known from southern Africa. Includes the following families: Leiodidae, Pselaphidae, Ptiliidae, Scaphidiidae, Scydmaenidae, Silphidae and Staphylinidae