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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Superfamily: Staphylinoidea

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

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 are known from southern Africa. 

Families encountered in southern Africa


Tiny beetles, 0.4 - 2.0 mm long. Adults and larvae live in decaying organic matter (e.g. leaf litter) and feed on fungal spores. Members of the tribe Nanosellini live in the spore tubes of bracket fungi, and members of the subfamily Cephaloplectinae live in ant nests (i.e. they are myrmecophiles). There is only one named species of ptiliid in southern Africa but there are probably other species still to be given names. 



Small beetles, 1.2 - 9.0 mm long, found in decaying plant material such as leaf litter. Food consists mainly of fungal spores. There are about eight genera and 16 species known from southern Africa.


Silphidae (carrion beetles)

Fairly large beetles, 7 - 45 mm long, usually blue-black in colour with longitudinal ridges along the elytra. They feed mainly on carrion but some are known to feed on snails or are plant feeders. There are three known species in southern Africa.



Adults are small beetles (size range 0.8 - 7.0 mm) that feed on spores and hyphae of fungi, particularly mushrooms and moulds in and on decaying wood. There are about six genera and 10 species known from southern Africa. 



Small ant-like beetles (0.5 - 7.5 mm long) that feed mainly on mites in decaying organic matter such as leaf litter, and in moss, under bark, or in caves. About 10 genera and 200 species are known from southern Africa.  


Staphylinidae (rove beetles)

Elongate beetles (usually) ranging widely in size (1.0 - 20.0 mm long) and with distinctive abbreviated elytra that expose most of the abdominal segments. Adults are mainly predators but there are some species that feed on dead animals (saprophages), fungi or algae. Larvae are also mainly predators. Larvae of Aleochora species are parasitoids of fly pupae. Staphylinids live in a wide range of habitats but are particularly abundant in decaying matter on the ground (e.g. leaf litter). Some specialised species live in ant and termite nests. There are about 150 genera and 750 species of Staphylinidae known from southern Africa. 


Small beetles (0.5 - 6.0 mm but usually < 2 mm long) with abbreviated elytra (as in Staphylinidae) that expose most of the abdominal segments.  They are found mainly in decaying matter on the ground (such as leaf litter) and there are also many species that are adapted to live in ant nests. Adults are mainly predators on e.g. mites.  About 100 genera and 400 species are known from southern Africa.