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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


Beetles belong to the order Coleoptera, the largest and most diverse order, not only in the insect class, but in the entire animal kingdom. More than one third of all described animal species are beetles. Of the 370,000 described species that occur worldwide, about 18,000 occur in southern Africa.

Beetles vary in size from minute to very large (Goliathus). Beetles have hard sclerotized bodies, 3 pairs of thoracic legs (legs attached to the thorax) and mouthparts that are adapted for chewing (unlike the Hemiptera mouthparts that are adapted tubes for sucking). They usually have 2 pairs of wings. Unlike other insects where both pairs are flexible or membranous, the fore wings are modified into hardened covers called elytra. When the animal is at rest, the hind wings are folded under, and protected by, the elytra. For flight, the elytra are lifted and the hind wings unfold and flap while the elytra are held up and act a stabilisers. However, not all beetles fly. In some cases the elytra are fused, the females are wingless or the hind wings are insufficiently developed for flying.  

Beetles grow and develop through a process called metamorphosis from egg, larva, pupa to adult.


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Beetles occupy many varied and diverse niches in the natural world:

Beetles that are vulnerable and/or protected by law

Lucanidae - Colophon, Scarabaeidae - Circellium bacchus

Beetles that eat cicadas


Beetles that eat cycads


Beetles that eat detritus and carrion

Bolboceratidae, Cleridae, Dermestidae, Elateridae, Histeridae, Hydrophilidae, Lycidae, Scarabaeidae, Silphidae, Staphylinidae, Tenebrionidae, Trogidae.    

Beetles that eat dung

Bolboceratidae, Histeridae, Hydrophilidae, ScarabaeidaeStaphylinidae

Beetles that eat fruit and flowers

Scarabaeidae - Cetoniinae, Buprestidae, Curculionidae

Beetles that eat fungi

Anthribidae, Brentidae, Cupedidae, Discolomatidae, Nitidulidae  Staphylinidae

Beetles that eat leaves

Apionidae, Brachyceridae, Chrysomelidae, Curculionidae, Meloidae, Scarabaeidae - CetoniinaeScarabaeidae- Rutelinae

Beetles that eat mites


Beetles that eat nectar

Cerambycidae, Meloidae

Beetles that eat pollen

Cerambycidae, Dermestidae, Elateridae, Meloidae, Melyridae, Nitidulidae Rhipiceridae, Scarabaeidae - Rutelinae, Staphylinidae

Beetles that eat seeds

Curculionidae, Bruchinae

Beetles that eat snails

Drilidae, Lampyridae, Silphidae

Beetles that eat your fig trees


Beetles that are predators

Anthicidae, Carabidae, Cleridae, Coccinellidae, Dytiscidae, Melyridae, Paussinae, Staphylinidae

Beetles that live in water

Aspidytidae, Dytiscidae, Gyrinidae, Hydrophilidae

Beetles that live in wood

Buprestidae, Bostrychidae, Cerambycidae, Lucanidae, Lymexylididae

Beetles that are pests

Anobiidae, Bostrychidae, Cerambycidae, Chrysomelidae, Curculionidae, Dermestidae, Elateridae

Beetles in high places 

Lucanidae - Colophon

Beetles that don't fly

Carabidae,  Cleridae, Brachyceridae, some Curculionidae, female Lampyridae, Lucanidae - Colophon, Scarabaeidae - Circellium bacchus, some Scarabaeus, Ptinidae,  most Tenebrionidae

Beetles that look like seeds

Lycidae, Curculionidae

Beetles that look like spiders


Beetles that look like flying ants or dragonflies.


Beetles that click


Beetles called flies

Fire fly - Lampyridae, Spanish Fly - Meloidae

Beetles called ladybirds


Beetles called monkeys

Scarabaeidae - Hopliini

Beetles called a Rhinoceros

Scarabaeidae - Dynastinae

Beetles called tigers


Beetles called glow worms


Beetles called jewels


Beetles that live with ants


Beetles with explosives and poisonous chemicals

Carabidae, Chrysomelidae, Meloidae, Paussinae

Beetles that provide poison for Bushman arrows


Beetles that have a long childhood


Beetles that hitch rides with bees or mimic amorous bees to find food.


Beetles that use 'aqua lungs'


Beetles that are mimicked by lizards

Carabidae - Anthiinae

Beetles that are erroneously reputed to be good for sex



Our thanks to Drs Picker, Griffiths and Weaving for permission to use their images from their Field Guide to Insects of South Africa.

Other images by H. Robertson and V. Whitehead.


  • Picker, M., Griffiths, C. & Weaving, A. 2002. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. Struik Publishers.

  • Scholtz, C. & Holm, E. 1985. Insects of Southern Africa. Butterworths Professional Publishers (Pty) Ltd.



This beetle site was developed by Margie Cochrane
(last update: December 2007).