An Introduction to Beetle (Coleoptera) Families


Nessa Darcy - 7th January 2017 - Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club



2154 species of beetles (Coleoptera) are native to Ireland, divided into 84 families. 4,034 species occur in the British Isles - 106 families. The largest beetle families in Ireland are the Staphylinidae (rove beetles, 641), Curculionidae (true weevils, 214) and Carabidae (ground beetles, 210).

Many beetle species will need to be keyed out under a microscope, but the resources below should help to narrow it down to family/genus. Larger beetles with distinctive elytral patterns (e.g., ladybirds) may be identifiable from photos.



Distinguishing a Beetle from Something Else


Beetles have an obvious head, thorax and abdomen, and six legs. Their outer wings have evolved into hardened, protective wing cases (elytra) which either cover the entire upper surface of the abdomen or are shortened, exposing some of the abdominal segments. They have biting, chewing mouth parts, as opposed to the piercing, sucking tube of a true bug (Hemiptera), for example.



Easier Attractive Beetle Families to Start With


Coccinellidae (ladybirds) - 27 (18 are recognisable as ladybirds)


Carabidae (ground beetles) - 210 (good resources for identification, ecology well researched)



More Challenging Families


Curculionidae (true weevils) - 214


Staphylinidae (rove beetles) - 641



Other Families Shown Here Today


Chrysomelidae (leaf, seed, tortoise, reed and flea beetles) - 154


Elateridae (click beetles) - 25


Silphidae (sexton, carrion and snail beetles) - 12


Scarabaeidae (scarabs, dung beetles, rose chafers, cockchafers/May beetles) - 35


Histeridae (hister or clown beetles) - 21


Dytiscidae (predacious diving beetles) - 86


Elmidae (riffle beetles) - 4






To begin: Unwin, D. M., 2015. A Key to the families of British beetles. FSC Publications, Telford.


When you’ve chosen your favourite beetle families: Keys to various beetle families and groups (e.g., water beetles) by the Royal Entomological Society and Field Studies Council.



Online Resources


Ladybirds of Ireland (Roy Anderson):


Ground beetles of Ireland (Roy Anderson):


Search by appearance to narrow it down to similar species and families:


The Watford Coleoptera Group has a gallery of UK beetle photos:


Keys from family to genus to species:


Facebook: Beetles of Britain and Ireland, Longhorn Recording Scheme (Britain),



Studying Beetles Grouped Together by Habitat


You might want to start getting to know the beetles at a certain location near you, in which case a guide to beetles of a specific habitat type might be useful.


If you have a river/pond lake nearby there are some excellent keys for water beetles by Foster, Friday and Bilton (Royal Entomological Society)


For woodland fans, the following is a checklist of beetles of decaying wood (saproxylic beetles):

Alexander, K. N. A. & Anderson, R. (2012) The beetles of decaying wood in Ireland. A provisional annotated checklist of saproxylic Coleoptera. Irish Wildlife Manuals, No. 65. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dublin, Ireland.



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