Hister metallicus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Superfamily: Histeroidea
Family: Histeridae
Gyllenhal, 1808

about 330, see text

Histeridae is a family of beetles commonly known as Clown beetles or Hister beetles. This very diverse group of beetles contains 3,900 species found worldwide. They can be easily identified by their shortened elytra that leaves two of the seven tergites exposed, and their elbowed antennae with clubbed ends. These predatory feeders are most active at night and will fake death if they feel threatened. This family of beetles will occupy almost any kind of niche throughout the world. Hister beetles have proved useful during forensic investigations to help in time of death estimation. Also, certain species are used in the control of livestock pests that infest dung and to control houseflies. Because they are predacious and will even eat other Hister beetles, they must be isolated when collected.



Hister unicolor

The Hister beetles are easily identified by their shiny elytra which is typically shiny black or metallic green. The two main shapes for this family are oval and flat. The elytra is shorter than the thorax with typically two of the seven tergites exposed. [1] Hister beetles have specialized heads that can retract into their prothorax and two elbowed antennae with clubbed ends. As predatory feeders, the Hister beetles commonly feed on the Egg, larval, and adult stages of other insects. Certain species are also used to control livestock pests that infest dung or to control house flies. Histeridae are most active at night and they will play dead if they feel threatened.[2]


Histeridae was named by Leonard Gyllenhaal. Histeridae has two common names, the “Clown” beetle and the “Hister” beetle. There have been several theories explaining the origin of these common names. [3] One theory for the “Hister” nickname comes from the work of Juvenal, a Roman poet. Juvenal used the word “hister” to mean a dirty, lowly being. Another theory for the origin of this beetle's name stems from the fact that in Latin, “hister” means actor. [4] Many people believe the name is associated with the Hister beetles’ ability to imitate death when they are disturbed. Still, some believe this family of beetles was named for its physical characteristics. The Clown beetle has flattened legs, which can be compared to a clown’s flat shoes or loose-fitting pants.


The Histeridae family is diverse. They rarely get over ten millimeters in length. The body form of these beetles is typically rounded or ovoid, but some are flat and rectangular. Typical coloration patterns include black, metallic green, and black with red markings. [3]

As with all insects, the body consists of a head, thorax, and abdomen. The thorax is divided into the prothorax, mesothorax and metathorax; the dorsal side of the prothorax is a sclerotized shield, the pronotum. The Hister beetle has an exoskeleton made of chitin which gives protection to the internal organs. The elytra and forewings are normally well developed in beetles, but in Histerdiae the elytra are shortened and rectangular. The shortened elytra expose the final two of the seven tergites. Attached to the body are three pairs of jointed legs and two pairs of wings. The head has compound eyes, a mandible mouthpart, and shortened antennae. The eyes do not move; each takes a little piece of the picture to make a complete picture. The Hister's mouthpart grasps and grinds the food with two teeth. Lastly, the antennae work as sensory organs. A distinctive characteristic is that the antennae are elbowed and contain three antennomeres that form a club at the end.[5]

Clown beetles have an open circulatory system within its hemocoel, also known as a body cavity. They have a tube shaped heart that spans the length of the body, and use hemolymph as blood.[6] This blood does not contain any oxygen, but carries nutrients throughout the body. Spiracles are located on the abdomen and are the tracheal system of the beetle. Oxygen is brought into the body by spiracles and tiny sacks exchange the oxygen like a mammal's lung. The beetles digestive system is known as an alimentary canal. The digestive system feeds the circulatory system. Within the canal, food and water are broken down, absorbed and excreted.


Hister beetles are found throughout the world in various habitats. Histeridae have been located in North America, Central America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, but each Hister beetle occupies certain niches. The beetles live in dung, carrion, dead vegetation, sandy areas, under tree bark, mammal burrows, and ant/termite colonies. Charactertistics of the Hister beetle are dependent upon its habitat. For example, the flat Hister beetles are found under bark, while the cylindrical beetles are not. Shape of the beetle will vary from species to species.

A unique ability of the Hister beetle is their capacity to live in close proximity with ants (myrmecophiles) and termites (termitophiles). The Hister beetles can live in harmony with the ants or predate on the ants, depending on the species.

Histeridae’s habitat is wide spread because they feed on other arthropods. As new food sources are introduced into an environment, the predators of that food source will soon follow. Histeridae live in areas where their prey feed. Some examples are mammalian nests where other arthropods scavenge for food or carrion where maggots will arrive.[7]

Feeding habits

Haeterius ferrugineus.jpg

The larvae and adult forms of Histeridae have been known to feed on dung, carrion, decomposing vegetation, other insects, larvae, and pupae.[8] The Hister beetles are able to locate both dung and carrion through olfaction. When found on dung, carrion and vegetation, the Hister beetles will feed on the fly larvae found there. The predacious Hister beetle will feed on soft-bodied insect eggs and larvae, Diptera in particular. Some species of Histeridae will even feed on other Histeridae.

The majority of Histeridae species prefer dried, decaying habitats. When found on carrion the adult Histeridae will usually be feeding on Diptera maggots, not the rotting material. The larvae of Hister beetles feed on the blowfly pupae found on the body.[9]

Some Histeridae species live in an integrated nest with ants and termites. Some species have been found to be fed by the ants, while others simply feed on leftover insect larvae that the ants do not want. In contrast, in their adult stage Psiloscelis will actually feed on adult ants.

Because the Histeridae are predacious they can be utilized as control agents, but must be stored in isolation. The Hister beetles have proven useful in both the control of pest flies in poultry houses and pastures, and against pest beetles of stored food products.[1]


Histeridae goes through holometabolous development. In this type of development the larval form does not resemble the adult form and the pupae has internally developing wings. They also undergo an immobile pupal stage where they do not eat. After the pupal stage they emerge in their adult form.

The Histeridae life cycle consists of egg, larval, pupal and adult stages of development:


The average time of development from Egg to adult at 30 degrees celsius is 20.5 days. The eggs of most species are off-white and oval in shape. The egg takes on average 3.8 days +/- 0.02 to develop into the first instar. The chorion is shiny and smooth. In certain species like epirerus or platylomalus it can look pale brown and be leathery in texture.[1]


The larval stage of the beetle typically goes through two instars, the second instar is the longest stage of its entire development, taking up 39% of the overall development time. It takes 5.1 days +/- 0.1 on average for the first instar to develop into the second. The larval form of the insect will range in length from three millimeters to several centimeters. They have a membranous body with a limited amount of sclerotization around the head. There is some pigmentation around the body and it is horizontally segmented. The legs are short and do not help much in locomotion. They move mostly through muscular contraction.[1]


The pupal form of the beetle is similar in appearance to the adult form. They have outer cells produced in the larval stages that are reinforced with proteinaceous cement. This makes their outer shell harder and protects them during this vulnerable stage. While they pupate they breathe through spiracles on the abdomen. The beetle is non-feeding and immobile in this stage, as their internal structure is breaking down and rebuilding to its adult form. Under good temperature conditions the Hister beetle will stay in the pupal stage for about a week.[1]

Male and Female Structures

The male and female reproductive organs are hidden underneath the last few sternites on the mesosternal (mesosternum) side. The female's structure is modified to work as an ovipositor while the male's is adapted as a copulatory structure. The female has oviducts that carry the developed eggs from the ovaries to the ovipositor. The males also have a duct that carries the sperm from the testes to the copulatory structure, which stays concealed until copulation. When fertilization takes place, the male leaves enough sperm in the female to fertilize all the eggs in the female's ovaries. The excess sperm is kept in a special structure called spermatheca which holds the sperm until the eggs are fully developed.[1]


There are four subclasses of Histeridae that are predators worth mentioning. These subclasses are known as:

1. Dendrobites

They have two common body shapes. The first type has a flatter shape; the second has a more cylindrical appearance. The former usually lives near tree barks. This is because the prey they feed on, fly eggs, are found near tree bark. The latter also feed on insects and prefer to live in a forested area. Species of the cylindrical Dendrobites usually hunt prey that is unique for that species.

2. Geobiotes

This subclass is the most diverse and the largest of the Hister predator subclasses. The Geobites body structures are generally circular, and they are known for their digging tendencies. This subclass is separated into five more divisions. The members of this subclass live anywhere from the soil, desert, and coast to caves, mammalian burrows, and vegetation. They live in accordance with where their prey lives. One division of the Geobiote feeds on maggots and eggs that are found in forest vegetation or in carrion. Naturally, this Geobiote is found in heavily forested areas. The second and third division hunts for arthropods that feed on dead plant matter. Thus, these types of Geobiotes are found in the sand and burrowed in soil. The fourth type of Geobiotes feed on fly eggs that grow on fresh dung. This division of Geobiotes is found near animal homes such as nests and burrows. The last type of Geobiotes lives in caves. They feed on the mites and other arthropods that occupy the vegetation and fungi found there. This type of Geobiote is known to include species that become blind.

3. Microhisterids

This subclass is the smallest of the four. They live on plant litter and feed on the tiny arthropods found there. Microhisterids, like all other Histeridae, become specialized to hunt their prey and live in their habitats. Like the fifth division of Geobiotes, some Microhisterids are known to be blind as well.[10]

4. Inquilines

This division consists of those Histeridae that live in close proximity with social colonies of arthropods such as ants and termites. Histeridae that live near ants can live in a harmonious or hostile relationship. The hostile Hister beetles feed on the ants. The harmonious Hister beetles eat the same food as the ants, however they may not be in direct competition for the food.[11] These beetles have an excretory organ that produces an odor telling the ants they mean no harm.[12]

Importance in forensics

Forensic Entomology is the study of insects related to crime scenes. Insects can be very helpful at a crime scene and give people an idea of what happened and when it happened. [13]

Flesh eating insects arrive at the dead body within a few hours. Certain species of the Hister beetles follow shortly behind and prey on the maggots and other arthropods present. Insects that feed on dead bodies increase the rate of decomposition and their mandibular mouth parts can cause excess damage to the body. Insects can also help determine the season the body died in. The Hister beetle is more prevalent in Spring and Summer.

The family, Histeridae, is very diverse, so different species can be found on the body at different times because of their various feeding habits. This needs to be noted when examining a dead body. They are predacious beetles and arrive when there is material to feed on, like other beetles or maggots. They do not actually feed on the carrion. [14] For example, Hister quadrinotatus and Hister sedakovi arrive to feed when the carrion is bloat to dry (full of maggots to no maggots). In contrast, Saprinus pennsylvanicus arrive at the body first, when it is fresh to late (beginning of decomposition to advanced decomposition).

The Hister beetles lay their eggs in dead bodies and over a short period of time they develop into various stages. The Histeridae larvae are destructive and when they hatch they eat the maggots in the dead body. The stage of the beetle and other insects in the body at the time of investigation helps to determine the time of death. "Beetle larvae are ... helpful when determining post-mortem time interval. Beetle larvae often reside in fly breeding resources, and they can be distinguished from fly larvae by the following: Beetle larvae possess a hard, head capsule, often brown in colour. Fly larvae lack a head capsule, instead having distinct, internal, black mouth hooks (cephalopharyngeal skeleton of mouthparts) at the anterior end of their body." [15] Understanding how long ago the eggs were laid and the time period of the developmental stages is important for determining the time of death.

The Histers beetles will hide under the dead body in the soil during the day and come out at night to feed. For this reason, the dead body must be examined at different times of the day. After collecting the Hister beetles from a body, isolate them because they are predacious beetles and eat anything in their way.

Genus and species

Histeridae is a family of beetles. It is a large and diverse family. There are approximately 3,900 species and about 500 of them are located in the United States. The beetles range in size, shape and color. Many of the adults are predacious. This is a brief taxonomy list of a few genus and species. [16]

Family Histeridae (hister beetles)

Gensus Species Pictures
Abraeomorphus Abraeomorphus atomarius
Atholus Atholus rothkirchi
Aeletes Aeletes angustisternus

Aeletes angustus

Aeletes basalis

Aeletes concentricus

Aeletes eutretus

Aeletes facilis

Aeletes flavitarsis

Aeletes germanus

Aeletes insolitus

Aeletes kauaiensis

Aeletes kukuiae

Aeletes laevis

Aeletes lanaiensis

Aeletes longipes

Aeletes makaweliae

Aeletes mauiae

Aeletes minor

Aeletes molokaiae

Aeletes monticola

Aeletes nepos

Aeletes ornatus

Aeletes parvulus

Aeletes perkinsi

Aeletes pulchellus

Aeletes punctatus

Aeletes sculptus

Aeletes similis

Aeletes solitarius

Aeletes subalatus

Aeletes subbasalis

Aeletes subrotundatus

Aeletes waianaae

Acritus Acritus komai

Acritus minutus

‎ Acritus minutus
Bacanius Bacanius confusus

Bacanius dentrecasteauxi

Bacanius rombophorus

Carcinops Carcinops pumilio
Geomysaprinus Geomysaprinus goffi
Hololepta Hololepta minuta

Hololepta plana

Hololepta quadridentata

Hololepta plana.JPG
Hister Hister abbreviatus

Hister bimaculatus

Hister coenosus

Hister confinis

Hister javanicus

Hister nomas

Hister orientalis

Hister quadrimaculatus

Hister quadrimaculatus
Neopachylopus Neopachylopus sulcifrons
Platylomalus Platylomalus gardineri
Pachylister Pachylister caffer

Pachylister chinensis

Pachylister lutarius

Plaesius Plaesius javanus
Paromalus Paromalus lautus
Paromalus parallelepipedus
Saprinus Saprinus fimbriatus

Saprinus lugens

Current research

Because the Histeridae family can be found on carrion, they have proven to be important in certain forensic investigations. The predacious Hister beetles will feed on the various insects on the body, primarily Diptera. To estimate a person's time of death, forensic investigators must look at the insects on the body and determine time of colonization. If the Histeridae beetles are present, the investigator can assume that some of the other insects have been eaten by the Hister beetles. Due to their importance in forensic entomology, research is continually being conducted on this family's life cycle and development, their prevalence in specific locations, and their geographical distribution.

A recent study was conducted at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey. Forty species of Coleoptera, including the Hister beetles, were observed on twelve pig carcasses over a one year period. The beetles’ distribution and their time of colonization in the various decomposition stages over the year were examined and recorded.[17]

External links


  1. ^ a b c d e f Peter W. Kovarik and Michael S. Caterino, "Histeridae", in Ross H. Arnett, Jr. and Michael C. Thomas, American Beetles (CRC Press, 2001), vol. 1
  2. ^ *Brundage, Adrienne. "Importance of Beetles Part 2." Ento 431 Class Period. Texas A&M University: Kleberg, College Station. 11 Mar. 2009.
  3. ^ a b Dillon, Elizabeth S., and Lawrence R. Dillon. A Manual of Common Beetles of Eastern North America. Peterson and Co., 1961.
  4. ^ Dictionary of word roots and combining forms compiled from the Greek, Latin, and other languages, with special reference to biological terms and scientific names. Mountain View, Calif: Mayfield Pub. Co., 1988.
  5. ^ "Beetle - MSN Encarta." MSN Encarta : Online Encyclopedia, Dictionary, Atlas, and Homework. 07 Apr. 2009 <http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/refpages/RefArticle.aspx?refid=761555773&pn=2>. Archived 2009-10-31.
  6. ^ Brundage, Adrienne. "Development and Orders." Ento 431 Class Period. Texas A&M University: Kleberg, College Station. 11 Mar. 2009.
  7. ^ Mazur, Slawomir. "Ecology and Habitats of Histeridae." 13 Mar. 2009 <http://www.museum.hokudai.ac.jp/exhibition/kikaku03/6sympoMazur.html>.
  8. ^ Davies, A. "Family Histeridae." Checklist of beetles of Canada and Alaska. Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes. 11 Mar. 2009 <http://www.canacoll.org/Coleo/Checklist/PDF%20files/HISTERIDAE.pdf>.
  9. ^ "Hister beetles - Family Histeridae." Decomposition: Hister Beetles. 2003. Australian Museum. 11 Mar. 2009 <http://www.deathonline.net/decomposition/corpse_fauna/beetles/hister.htm>.
  10. ^ Mazur, Slawomir. "Ecology and Habitats of Histeridae." 13 Mar. 2009 <http://www.museum.hokudai.ac.jp/exhibition/kikaku03/6sympoMazur.html>.
  11. ^ Arnett, R. H. 1968. Histeridae. In: The Beetles of the United States (A manual for identification). The American Entomological Institute, Ann Arbor, xii + 1112 pp.
  12. ^ Gillott, C. 1995. The Remaining Endopterygote Orders. In: Entomology. Plenum Press, New York, xviii + 798 pp.
  13. ^ Byrd, Dr. J. H. "Definition and Information." Forensic Entomology: Insects in Legal Investigations. 1998. 21 Mar. 2009 <http://www.forensicentomology.com/definition.htm http://www.forensicentomology.com/info.htm>.
  14. ^ Fuller, John. "What do bugs have to do with forensic science?" How Stuff Works? University of Georgia. 21 Mar. 2009 <http://science.howstuffworks.com/forensic-entomology2.htm>.
  15. ^ Dadour, Dr. Ian, and Dr. David Cook. "Collecting From a Corpse." Web Ring. 2001. 23 Mar. 2009 <http://agspsrv34.agric.wa.gov.au/ento/forensic.htm>.
  16. ^ Myers, P., R. Espinosa, and C. S. Parr. "Family Histeridae." Animal Diversity Web. 1998. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. 22 Mar. 2009 <http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/classification/Histeridae.html>.
  17. ^ Özdemir, Senem, and Osman Sert. "Determination of Coleoptera fauna on carcasses in Ankara province, Turkey." Forensic Science International 183 (2009): 24-32.

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