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Identifying beetles

In the end, we will conserve only what we love,
we will love only what we understand,
and we will understand only what we can identify.


I believe that anyone who wants to be able to identify the whole British and Irish beetle fauna of 4,072 species should be able to do so without having to learn any foreign languages, spend hundreds of pounds on literature or spend dozens of hours photocopying. I believe that readily-available, accurate, up-to-date and easy-to-use English language keys should exist for all British and Irish beetles. But they don’t: the aim of this site is to plug the gaps.

This site will:

  • Provide ‘cribs’ to supplement, clarify, correct and up-date existing keys.
  • Provide new keys.
  • Provide photo-identification guides to groups which are amenable to a ‘field guide’ style.

Cribs, keys and photo-guides will be downloadable where appropriate so they can be printed off and used as a paper copy next to the microscope or in the field.

Paper publications go out-of-date and out-of-print. All cribs, keys and photo-guides on this website will be live, evolving documents which will be updated with corrections, improvements, name-changes and new species. Documents will have version numbers and datestamps to keep track of the changes.

Everyone can contribute:

  • Test. Have a go and submit a comment if you find anything confusing or can see any potential for improvement.
  • Annotate. Rather than annotating the margins of your paper copy, share your notes and get the master copy updated.
  • Write. Write a new key. Beginners or experts alike welcome to submit keys to the site.
  • Illustrate. More and better illustrations always welcome.
  • Translate. German-readers especially welcome!
  • Scan. Anything out-of-print and out-of-copyright welcome.
  • Negotiate. Ask copyright holders for permission.

Techniques for studying beetles

It would be possible to write a whole book on techniques for finding and catching beetles, for killing, dissecting and identifying specimens and preparing a collection. In fact, a large part of A Coleopterist’s Handbook does just that and is a recommended purchase.

This website offers additional advice and tips on techniques from a personal perspective. I know that things like carding can be a real frustration and an obstacle to new coleopterists so these webpages aim to lower the hurdles.


  1. Dave Murray says:

    Dear Mark,
    Congratulations on a truly splendid website! In my experience two genera could do with some sensible treatment; Carpophilus and Epuraea, more especially so as they turn up so frequently in samples. I have Joy’s keys and have obtained all the references given in Peter Hodges New British Beetles but still have no confidence with the group. Any references would be useful although I must say I have Freude’s clavicornia volume but translation is a nightmare.
    Many thanks, Dave.

  2. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Dave! My Epuraea key is now downloadable from the password-protected area. I’ll send you the details. However, I’m afraid I am also at a complete loss with Carpophilus!

  3. Mike Bloxham says:

    Dear Mark,
    Agree on most grounds. Interested in Epuraea- believe I have just got E. melanocephala from a pitfall trap but as usual have had to risk the excellent Joy for the tentative id.

  4. Steve Crellin says:

    Hi Mark,

    This is a very handy site; many thanks. Would it be possible to get a copy of your Epuraea key? I have a friend who is doing a lot of breeding of these beetles, primarily looking at the parasites, so it would be useful to be able to check which species he has rather than having to send them through the post to be checked.


  5. Danielle Richards says:

    Can anyone help me by suggesting where to start with weevil ID? I’ve ordered Morris (1991), as I heard it’s helpful to decide which group its in. Annoyingly, weevils have wandered into my pitfall traps and I’m supposed to be identifying all beetles as part of my MRes. Does anyone have any useful tips?


  6. markgtelfer says:

    Danielle, I will try to add some weevil pages to this site in due course but it’s quite a big undertaking. In the meantime, my advice would be to acquire all 4 of Mike Morris’s RES Handbooks on weevils. The 5th and final handbook exists as a test version if you can get hold of it; if not use Joy. Even with all the literature, you will probably need extra help (e.g. from an experienced coleopterist or a museum collection) to accurately identify all your weevils. Good luck, Mark

  7. Anon says:

    Hi, I have another book recommendation which some may find helpful: Harde/Severa: Der Kosmos Käferführer (Die Käfer Mitteleuropas). 5th ed. 2006. This was intended as an illustrated companion book to Freude/Harde/Lohse and contains about 1000 anatomically correct colour drawings of Central European coleoptera (110 out of 139 families are illustrated). I find it very useful for confirming that I have keyed out in the correct family (as with the small families in the Cucujoidea etc.) and I would think that it would be helpful especially for beginners (even if you don’t speak German). The modest cost of around £12 belies its usefullness!

  8. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation. In fact there is also an English edition of this book, edited by Peter Hammond and with much additional text by Peter. It is out of print but well worth getting hold of (there are currently two 2nd -hand copies on amazon for £30 each).

  9. Kit Sullivan says:

    Unfortunately I cannot find Peter’s edition of the Harde/Severa book on Amazon. I’m assuming they have gone.

  10. markgtelfer says:

    There are some copies still available on amazon.co.uk – search for “Harde beetles”.

  11. Victoria says:

    Hi Mark,

    Just wanted to say what a fantastic resource your website is! I have already recommended you to my colleagues. Keep up the great work!


  12. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Victoria,
    I appreciate that.

  13. Hello Mark
    We need to record more beetles here on our site at Llanmadoc, Gower. What general beetle ID book can I buy to start this? We have two Meloe oil beetle species and I have a nice photographic key off the net for Geotrupidae by Mike Hackston – is there anything easy like that out there?

  14. markgtelfer says:

    Dear Sarah, I don’t think the book you need exists but volume 1 of Andrew Duff’s major new identification handbook to British and Irish beetles is currently in press:

  15. Kevin says:

    Hi Mark, what do I do if I have seen a beetle I cannot find any information on? Can I email you a few photo`s?

    Large head is a dark shiny green and the main body is rusty, again shinny. `Head to toe` about 1.5cms long.

  16. markgtelfer says:

    I recommend posting your photos on iSpot. It’s designed for exactly this sort of thing. I’m often too busy to check iSpot and identify other peoples’ photos but there are plenty of experts who are good at it.

  17. Kevin says:

    Hi Mark, your link links to a `page not found`. I will try again in a couple of days just incase it is down for any work needing doing.

  18. Rosemary says:

    Hi Mark,
    Can you tell me if there is any book or website which lists the current population status and, habitat preference of all or most UK and Northern Ireland beetles, plus feeding habits? This is in aid of comparing all the species I found last year at Murlough NNR, Co. Down. for a report. So far I’ve got the Staphs, Carabids & Curculionidae done… Am I missing the obvious? Thank you!

  19. markgtelfer says:

    For Britain, the conservation statuses of beetles are in Hyman and Parsons (1992, 1994), plus Foster (2010) for aquatic beetles and Alexander (2014) for 11 families including jewels and soldiers. However, all of these publications cover Britain but no part of the island of Ireland.
    There is an Irish Red List of water beetles (ref. below) but for other beetles the best thing is to use the British statuses with the caveat that they may not apply very well to the Irish fauna.
    Foster, G. N., Nelson, B. H. & O Connor, Á. (2009) Ireland Red List No. 1 – Water beetles. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dublin, Ireland.

  20. markgtelfer says:

    With regard to habitat preferences and feeding habits, there is no collation of such traits for all beetles. I’ve collated various trait information for carabids for my own uses and I guess other people have done the same for groups they’re interested in. But there’s nothing comprehensive and publicly available.

  21. Peter Breivik says:

    Hello Mark, do you know of any good keys or other resources for identifying beetle larvae? Thanks! Peter

  22. markgtelfer says:

    Hi Peter, beetle larvae is a subject that needs a whole page to itself. One day I will write one! But meanwhile, there is a Royal Ent Soc Handbook in preparation – you may be able to get a test version from Beulah Garner at the NHM. Otherwise, the main literature is a series of papers by F.I. van Emden in Ent mon Mag in the 1940s. For example:
    van Emden, F.I. (1943). Larvae of British beetles. IV. Various small families. Entomologist’s monthly magazine, ?78?(1943), 209 – 223 and 259 – 270.
    They’re not on BHL so probably not available electronically yet.

  23. Malcolm Sole says:

    I photographed a beetle yesterday on my window sill(inside). It is 12 – 15 mm long, coloured black with yellow laterally on the back with spikes sticking up, yellow and black. I cannot if it in any of my books, any help would be gratefully accepted.
    Malcolm Sole

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