Common name:

Hister beetles, clown beetles

Number of species:


Size Range:





  • Abraeus granulum
  • Acritus nigricornis
  • Atholus bimaculatus
  • Carcinops pumilio
  • Dendrophilus pygmaeus
  • Gnathoncus buyssoni
  • Haeterius ferrugineus
  • Hister bissexstriatus
  • Margarinotus brunneus
  • Onthophilus punctatus
  • Paromalus flavicornis
  • Plegaderus dissectus
  • Saprinus virescens


The 2012 British list has 52 species of Histeridae (1-10mm long), in seven subfamilies.  The family have truncate elytra, leaving the final two abdominal segments exposed, and characteristic geniculate (elbowed) antennae with terminal clubs.  Generally strong-flying, quadrate species, most are carnivorous and are often found on carrion, where they usually arrive late and feed on other scavenging species.  When disturbed, they fold their appendages into grooves on the underside and play dead, often for a long time.

Subfamily Abraeinae contains nine small (1-3mm) species, mostly associated with wood in various states of decay.  An exception is Halacritus punctum Aubé, which is only found under seaweed just above the high tide mark.  Teretrius fabricii Mazur, a predator of Lyctus spp. (Bostrichidae), has not been recorded in Britain since 1907 and may well be extinct here.

Subfamily Saprininae contains 16 2-7mm species.  Most of the Saprinus and Hypocaccus spp. are found in carrion and dung.  Myrmetes paykulli Kanaar is widespread but scarce and found in association with the wood ant Formica rufa L., while Saprinus virescens (Paykull) is a predator of Phaedon larvae (Chrysomelidae).

Subfamily Dendrophilinae has 7 British representatives, although Paromalus parallelopipidus (Herbst) has not been recorded since 1952.  Several can be found beneath tree bark, but additionally one Dendrophilus species, D. punctatus (Herbst) is found in carrion and bird nests and in association with the wood ant F. rufa, where it can be joined by Dendrophilus pygmaeus (L.).  Carcinops pumilio (Erichson) is another carrion species (although it is also found in other decaying organic matter, particularly bat droppings and vegetation), while Kissiter minimus (Aubé) is usually found amongst grass roots in sandy areas.  Dendrophilus xaveri Marsuel is of Japanese origin, established in grain and flour warehouses in port cities, particularly Bristol, London and Liverpool.

Subfamily Onthophilinae includes just two species, Onthophilus striatus (Forster) and O. punctataus (Muller), which can be separated from other Histeridae by the presence of longitudinal keels on the elytra.  Onthophilus punctatus has only been recorded from mole nests, but O. striatus is common and widespread in dung and leaf litter.

Subfamily Tribalinae has only one British representative, the black 2-3mm beetle Epierus comptus, found only under beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) bark in Wiltshire.

Subfamily Histerinae includes 16 medium-sized (3-11mm) British species, mostly rounded, and shining black with red patterning.  Many are common in dung, carrion and rotting fungi, but Hister quadrinotatus Scriba, H. illigeri Duftschmidt and Margarinotus obscurus (Kugelann) are thought to be extinct in Britain.  Like O. punctatus, Margarinotus marginatus (Erichson) is a specialist of mole nests and is thus likely to be under-recorded.

Subfamily Haeterinae has only one British species, Hetaerius ferrugineus (Olivier), a rare 1-2mm reddish beetle associated with nests of the ants Formica sanguinea Lat. and F. rufa in south-eastern England.