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Carabidae – ground beetles

The classic ‘starter family’ of beetles. They are a good group to begin with as they are a nice size (365 species) and occur in all terrestrial and freshwater habitats from the inter-tidal zone to the highest mountain tops. More or less wherever you look, there will always be a carabid to be found. They are mostly of a size that allows identification with a hand lens or a low-power microscope. They’re not all easy though: the Carabidae includes some identification challenges to test any coleopterist!

1. Identification step one: keys

I strongly recommend buying a copy of Martin Luff’s (2007) RES Handbook. It is up-to-date and complete (excluding only 13 species which are occasional introductions, long extinct, or both). Amongst the improvements over the preceding RES Handbook (Lindroth, 1974) are all the line illustrations in the margins of the key, ‘similar species’ text highlighting diagnostic differences where appropriate, and 147 whole-beetle colour photographs at the back of the book. Currently (March 2015) selling for £19.

Alternatively, you could buy Andrew Duff’s Beetles of Britain and Ireland, volume 1. I haven’t used BBI1 much to identify carabids for myself yet so I’m not really in a position to compare it to Luff (2007). BBI1 is a more concise and less detailed work but many of its keys are corrected and improved versions of those in Luff (2007). Unless the cost is prohibitive, buy both. Of course, BBI1 covers many families other than carabids, for several of which it undoubtedly provides the best English-language keys available. Currently (March 2015) selling for £89 from Pemberley Books.
Duff, A.G. (2012). Beetles of Britain and Ireland. Volume 1: Sphaeriusidae to Silphidae. West Runton: A.G. Duff.

Whichever book you have, if you are new to carabids, or perhaps working on carabids without access to a reference collection, you may not always find that the keys get you swiftly and easily to an identification that you can be confident of. Do not despair – this page aims to help.

2. An alternative to keys: the field guide approach

Keys such as those in the RES Handbooks series are good for a lot of beetles but there are plenty of species which would be better suited to a field guide treatment. The ideal guide would take people as far as possible towards identification of carabids in the field, using photographs, illustrations and diagnostic text. But field identification is not realistic for all the carabids: a hybrid approach is needed between a field guide treatment where appropriate with traditional keys for the really critical species.

As a step towards this vision, I have been working with John Walters on a series of guides to British and Irish carabids. These guides are deliberately beginner-friendly but they are intended to make carabid identification as accurate as possible for beginner and expert alike. We believe they are the best available guides to identification for the species they cover.

All the Guides to British Beetles are now freely available for download as full-colour PDF files. These are free to download but by downloading any of these guides, you agree to let John and I know of any corrections, improvements or updates that you discover (e.g. leave a Comment below). We’ll update the guide and issue a revised version. It’s best to right-click on these links and choose to save the PDF to your computer.
1. Carabus, Calosoma and Cychrus (Carabini and Cychrini)
2. Cylindera and Cicindela Tiger-beetles (Cicindelinae)
4. Leistus (part of the Nebriini)
5. Nebria, Eurynebria and Pelophila (the other part of the Nebriini)
6. Notiophilus (Notiophilini): part A and part B
7. Brachinus (Brachininae), Omophron (Omophroninae), Loricera (Loricerini) and Broscus and Miscodera (Broscini)
8. Blethisa and Elaphrus (Elaphrini)
9. Pogonus (Pogonini)
10. Poecilus (part of the Pterostichini)
11. Asaphidion (Bembidiini)
12. Patrobus (Patrobini)
13. Odacantha (Odacanthini), Drypta (Dryptini), Callistus (part of the Chlaeniini), Oodes (Oodini) and Masoreus (Masoreini)
14. Anisodactylus Short-spurs (part of the Harpalini)
15. Demetrias, Paradromius, Dromius, Calodromius and Philorhizus (part of the Lebiini)
16. Pterostichus, Stomis and Abax (the remainder of Pterostichini)

The plan is to cover the whole of the Carabidae in 24 parts. In case you’re wondering why part 3 is missing, it covers the Dor beetles (Geotrupidae and Bolboceratidae).

These identification guides are introducing English names for carabids, most of which are newly-invented though they draw on existing vernacular names where possible. As this has been a contentious and divisive issue amongst coleopterists, in the past at least, I explain myself here.

3. Corrections and clarifications to Luff’s keys.

Few have achieved the ‘holy grail’ of a key which newcomers to a group can use and get the right answers first time. Luff’s handbook is a tremendous achievement but experience has shown that users (new and old) can and do get stuck when trying to key out specimens. This “crib” (download PDF below) was started by Roger Key to try to solve real problems encountered by students on Roger’s carabid course at Leeds University. I have been expanding and updating it to fix any problems that have come to my attention, including problems encountered by attendees at the BENHS carabid workshops in March of 2010, 2011 and 2012.

This is an essential supplement to Luff’s RES Handbook. Without it you will make mistakes and waste time in confusion! Download the PDF of the carabid crib: Carabid Crib v11 (2013-03-06).

Version 11 includes a minor correction to Badister couplet 5, a minor correction to the Notiophilus biguttatus species account, a correction to the Microlestes maurus species account, a replacement couplet 1 in the key to Anisodactylus, and discusses a flaw in couplet 1 of the key to subgenera of Harpalus (without finding a solution!). It also includes new links to photos of crossed elytral epipleura and setiferous punctures inside eye. Thanks to Clive Turner, Martin Harvey, Richard Wright, Simon Horsnall, Chris Bentley, Iain Lawrie and Andrew Duff for input to version 11.

4. Tell us where you get stuck!

Keys should work first time. But only a first-time key-user can really judge whether the keys work first time or not! Experienced coleopterists often fail to spot the problems that would face a first-time user.

So, please ‘Comment’ below on any and all problems you find when you’re trying to identify carabids. Tell us the solution as well if you’ve worked it out, but if not, we’ll look into it. As well as updating the Carabid Crib (for use with Luff (2007)) and producing updated versions of the Guides to British Beetles, I could start a “crib” for use with BBI1 (if and when anyone finds a mistake in it!).

5. Three more essential free downloads

Martin Luff’s Provisional atlas of the ground beetles (Coleoptera, Carabidae) of Britain can be downloaded free here. You can see more up-to-date maps of carabid distributions on the NBN Gateway but the Atlas is not badly out of date and Martin’s text is very useful. The Atlas really helps to check whether the carabid you have just identified is common, scarce, rare or outrageous.

Carl Lindroth’s (1974) RES Handbook was the predecessor to Luff (2007). It has only fairly recently become available as a PDF which can be freely downloaded here. Lindroth (1974) was the book I used to learn the carabids and I think it is a superb piece of work. Compared to Luff (2007) it is generally more detailed and technical and will be well worth consulting if you can’t reach a confident identification using Luff (2007). On the downside, it is generally more complex, uses some rather archaic technical terms, and has quite a few errors. In fact, if I had to write a “crib” to be used alongside Lindroth (1974), it would be massive! When I first got Lindroth (1974), I copied all the annotations out of Brian Eversham’s copy, and have added many more annotations since – it is a treasure and one of the things I would attempt to rescue first if our house was on fire! (Loads of other out of print RES Handbooks are also now available for download).

Andrew Duff’s Checklist of beetles of the British Isles can be downloaded here. It’s best to right-click the link and choose to save the PDF to your computer. There is also a checklist in Luff (2007) but it’s always best to use the latest version. This will mainly be useful for translating when different authors have used different names for the same species, e.g. when working out what the names in Lindroth (1974) mean in current usage. It’s also useful when using foreign websites (see below) or literature to work out whether all the species on the British list are covered, or not.
Duff, A.G. (2012). Checklist of beetles of the British Isles. 2012 edition. Iver: Pemberley Books.

6. Photographic galleries

Sometimes, it will be possible to identify carabids just by finding a picture on the internet that looks like a match. But it’s not an approach I would advise, especially if you’re new to carabids – it’s just too easy to make mistakes. But there’s no denying that the internet can now supply good, reliably identified images of most British carabids and these websites are a great help:

Ground Beetles of Ireland (Roy Anderson’s incomparable photos of live beetles)
Udo Schmidt’s beautiful photos (Western Palaearctic species)
Watford Coleoptera Group
The Coleopterist photo gallery (including a lot of John Walters’ photos)
Carabidae of Alsace (NE France, lots of overlap with the British and Irish fauna)
Carabidae of Poland
Koleopterologie.de (Possibly the best all-round gallery of European beetles)
Christoph Benisch’s kerbtier.de (A magnificent gallery of photos of most of the German carabid fauna (massive overlap with the British fauna))
Trevor and Dilys Pendleton’s “Eakring Birds” (A gallery of Nottinghamshire beetles, beautifully photographed alive)
Know of any others? Please let me know your recommendations.

7. More online identification guides

These are highly recommended, detailed identification guides to carabids which are not yet covered by the Guides to British Beetles series:

Trechus obtusus and quadristriatus (see also here)
Bembidion tetracolum, bualei and femoratum
Pterostichus nigrita and rhaeticus
Amara and Curtonotus (all 31 species)
Philorhizus notatus and vectensis.

These may also be useful supplementary identification guides but they cover carabids already dealt with by the Guides to British Beetles series, or by guides in the list above:

Nebria brevicollis and salina
Notiophilus (all 8 species)
Elaphrus (all 4 species)
Amara communis and convexior
Amara ovata and similata

Online keys to the genera and species of Irish carabids:
Ground Beetles of Ireland ID Keys

Mike Hackston’s site has downloadable keys to most British carabids. I haven’t spent much time looking at them yet so can’t really comment but looks to be an excellent resource, adapted and improved from Lindroth (1974) with the addition of numerous colour photos.

In similar vein, Arved Lompe’s Die Käfer Europas site seems to include keys to all the Carabidae of Europe. In German but google translate does a passable job of turning it into intelligible English.

8. Odds and sods

There are two types of carabidologist: those who have got their eye in on “crossed elytral epipleura”, and those who wish they had. It is a slightly maddening character but very useful, once learnt, for keying out carabid tribes and genera. Lindroth (1974) uses it at couplet 56 of his key to genera and Luff (2007) uses it at couplet 19 of his key to tribes of Carabinae. Here’s an excellent photo showing crossed elytral epipleura by Iain Lawrie.

Roger Key’s very useful Carabid Glossary: Carabid Glossary v1 (2010-03-01)

References
Duff, A.G. (2012). Checklist of beetles of the British Isles. 2012 edition. Iver: Pemberley Books.
Duff, A.G. (2012). Beetles of Britain and Ireland. Volume 1: Sphaeriusidae to Silphidae. West Runton: A.G. Duff.
Lindroth, C.H. (1974). Coleoptera, Carabidae. Handbooks for the identification of British insects, volume 4, part 2. London: Royal Entomological Society.
Luff, M.L. (1998). Provisional atlas of the ground beetles (Coleoptera, Carabidae) of Britain. Huntingdon: Biological Records Centre.
Luff, M.L. (2007). The Carabidae (ground beetles) of Britain and Ireland. Handbooks for the identification of British insects , volume 4, part 2 (2nd edition). St Albans: Royal Entomological Society.
 


47 Comments

  1. Mick Massie says:

    “where there are some identification tips for Carabidae, amongst other groups.”
    Do I have to register and login to be able to get this ?
    How do I register ?

  2. markgtelfer says:

    Mick, Thanks for your comment. A user’s 1st comment needs moderator’s (my) approval which is why it didn’t appear straight away.
    I’ve fleshed out the identification info on the Carabidae page for you. Good luck!

  3. Clive Washington says:

    I have trouble with Luff on P. 37 couplet 20. The distinction between a segment that is less pubescent basally, and one that is ‘clearly less pubescent than the 4th segment’ isn’t too clear. I had to look over several museum specimens, and ask advice, before I got the hang of this couplet so perhaps it could be clarified?

  4. Clive Washington says:

    Luff p. 145, Amara, Couplet 2. Having found apricaria I checked it against a museum specimen for all in this subgenus. I have to say that I didn’t see a clear distinction between the angle of obliquity (is that a word?) of the pronotal keel in apricaria or consularis. They looked identical. The angle of the elytral sides seemed a much better character.

  5. markgtelfer says:

    Luff p.145, Amara, couplet 2. Agreed that the ‘ridge inside pronotal hind angle’ is only very slightly less oblique in apricaria compared to consularis. There is a pore at the pronotal hind angle bearing a long seta. In apricaria that ridge reaches the base of the pronotum and the pore lies outside of the ridge, whereas in consularis that ridge is interrupted before the base by the pore. I think this is the best character to use: ID page added.

  6. Chris Andrews says:

    Hi,
    I notice Luff uses winged and non-winged forms as a diagnostic feature in his description between Trechus obtusus and T. quadristriatus. The german website above suggests at least some specemins of T. obtusus are macropterous. Is this therefore a reliable diagnostic feature in the UK?

  7. markgtelfer says:

    Chris, Although macropterous obtusus are known on the continent, I’m not aware that they have ever been found in Britain. Brachyptery in general does tend to be more prevalent towards the range edge I think. So, wing-length can be used as a diagnostic feature in Britain but I bet someone could find a macropterous obtusus if they looked hard enough!

  8. Clive Washington says:

    I’m still not happy with Couplet 20 p. 37, If you take e.g. Bradycellus, the 3rd antennal segment has so much less pubescence than the 4th that you are tempted to go to couplet 22. Until I have seen more species I have tentatively pencilled in simply pubescent/glabrous to my copy!

    Also there is an error on p. 148 in which the Harpalini are stated to have ‘no seta at pronotal hind angle’ but Dicheirotrichus does in fact have setae and this led me through some considerable pain before I checked up with a colleague!

  9. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Clive. I have tested p.37 Couplet 20 and found that it doesn’t really work for Bradycellus, Trichocellus or Dicheirotrichus. I have composed an alternative couplet and uploaded this within version 4 of the Carabid Crib. Also included is a correction to the statement that Harpalini lack setae at the pronotal hind angle.

  10. clive turner says:

    Mark,

    In the Carabid crib I noticed in the new couplet adjustment from MXG the couplet numbering is awry – the wording matches the key so readers can work it out and the couplet references directly above each are also correct.

    cheers

    Clive

  11. Clive Washington says:

    Having just got my hands on a Patrobus atrorufus I have to take issue with the species description on p. 104 in which the antennomeres are described as parallel-sided. In fact they are only parallel-sided in one viewing direction and are strongly tapered if the antenna is viewed at right-angles to this. Of course sods law will control which face is displayed after they are mounted…

  12. Page 117, couplet 9:
    – the size distinction is set at 7mm, but in the text it is 6.5mm, which seems a better match to my specimens
    – for Oxypselaphus, most of my specimens have both the head *and* thorax dark, with the elytra paler
    – I find it hard to appreciate any darkening of the antennae in Oxypselaphus (and can’t see it on plate 95)
    – the easiest distinction for this couplet seems to be something that is only mentioned in the text: Oxypselaphus has punctured striae, Paranchus has unpunctured striae

  13. markgtelfer says:

    Carabid crib version 7 now deals with identification issues raised by Clive Washington and Martin Harvey (above) and by Nic Millar on the beetles-britishisles yahoo group. Thanks to all three for their help.

  14. Andrew Duff says:

    Hi Mark,

    Carabid crib v7 page 34 couplet 2, second part says “Apex of tibia with a single large apical spur” (cf. first part of the couplet). This needs to make it clear that you are referring to the front tibia – the mid and hind tibiae of all carabids have two apical spurs I think.

  15. Andrew Duff says:

    Hi Mark, me again.

    Carabid crib v7 page 37 couplet 19 says “elytral margin crossing the epipleuron near the apex”. This needs to reinstate the word “usually” as the elytral margin is not crossed in Pterostichus cristatus (see Luff p. 107).

  16. Andrew Duff says:

    Carabid crib v7 page 171. Minor typo in Bradycellus distinctus species account: Deal is in East Kent, not West.

  17. Andrew Duff says:

    Carabid crib v 7 page 187 couplet 7 says for Paradromius “both elytra together at least twice as long as wide”. But if you measure the width : length ratio from Plate 138 you find the length is not quite twice the width (13 : 23 mm). I suggest changing the couplet to “… nearly twice as long as wide”, vs. “… much less than twice as long as wide”.

  18. Andrew Duff says:

    Luff p. 182 couplet 5 says “Length at least 5 mm” for Badister dilatatus, but the species note (on p. 183) has “Length 4.5-5.4 mm”. The latter is correct according to Kevan (1955) in EMM 91: 207-210. I suggest deleting the length character from both sides of this couplet as there is simply too much overlap.

  19. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Andrew, all those comments now incorporated into Carabid Crib version 8.

  20. Clive Washington says:

    Bembidion genera, p. 77 couplet 6. “Sides of pronotum rounded, hind angles not protruding” ought to have the qualifier “although a small tooth may be present at the hind angle”. It’s quite easy to misread this description to mean that the hind angle itself is rounded – which of course is not the case.

  21. Andrew Duff says:

    The key to Leistus on p. 46 refers to the pronotal epipleura. However this term is not explained in the Morphology section on pp. 1-4 and would be confusing to the uninitiated.

  22. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Clive and Andrew, your comments have now been dealt with in Carabid Crib version 10.

  23. Andrew Duff says:

    A very minor correction. Luff states that wings are absent in Bembidion tetracolum (p. 93), however I believe this species is usually brachypterous, i.e. with flight wings present but short and non-functional.

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  25. clive turner says:

    Mark,
    I’m just going through v10 to update whats been added since v9. I note alterations are in page order, would it be possible on the next update to add a version number next to the change (i.e. v11) since the last version. Users could then search text on this basis and extract the latest items without going over previous adjustments. It could be missing a trick (been a long day) and I can filter this elsewhere, apologies if so.
    all the best
    Clive

  26. markgtelfer says:

    Clive,
    Thanks, I see the problem and I will do as you recommend in v11 (which is overdue).

  27. Chris Andrews says:

    Hi Mark,

    I wondered if you had any advice when seperating Bembidion (Bembidionetolitzkya)? I almost certainly have all three from traps placed on mid-river islands (Scotland) for the last couple of years. However I am never entirely comfortable I have keyed them out correctly. I.e. they never seem to fully fit both the key or species description in Luff.
    Are there any diagnostics that might not have been included in the book?

    Kind Regards

    Chris

  28. markgtelfer says:

    Chris, Have emailed you my ID notes. Will try to get these finished and online before too long.

  29. Rik Harris says:

    As a beginner I am very thankful for these PDF guides. Would be good to see the months these beetles are around though.

  30. Simon Horsnall says:

    Have you seen the note in Oct 09 edition of beetle news ref Anisodactylus and the colour being an unreliable way of separating poeciloides from other members of the genus?

  31. Andrew Duff says:

    I’m having difficulty with Luff’s key to Harpalus subgenera on p. 150. The first couplet separates Harpalus s.str. from the other subgenera by absence of dorsal setae on the (mid) tarsi. But my specimen of H. (Cryptophonus) tenebrosus has very few dorsal setae – certainly much less than is shown in Luff’s Fig. 247 – while some H. (Harpalus) affinis appear to have several dorsal setae when there should be none. Is this character altogether reliable?

  32. markgtelfer says:

    Andrew, Hopefully someone else may be able to answer your query. I have never looked at that character (dorsal pubescence of tarsi) so I can’t help, other than to offer the opinion that it would be better to ignore subgenera and have a key to species of genus Harpalus.

  33. A very minor point, but just noticed that on p. 52 the species account for Notiophilus biguttatus, under the subhead “Similar species”, talks of punctures on the *third* elytral interval, whereas elsewhere the account and the key correctly refer to the fourth interval.

  34. Alice Jewer says:

    The guide book is exceptional. I have recently finished my Master’s thesis on variation in ground beetle activity to meteorological variation – and you’re book was a god send, both allowing me to identify beetles I had never come across before and giving me a strange sense of affection towards the little critters!! Thanks 🙂

  35. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Alice, sounds like you’ve caught the carabid bug!

  36. Tristan Bantock says:

    I have found this website dealing with the Polish fauna very helpful, many British taxa included
    http://www.colpolon.biol.uni.wroc.pl/carabidae.htm

  37. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Tristan, I have added that website to the list of recommendations.

  38. In the description for Microlestes maurus it states that wings are absent. The vast majority I have seen from pitfall traps at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve (id based on dissection of the aedeagus when possible) have been winged (albeit short)

  39. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Chris,
    Luff’s Handbook states “Wings absent” for Microlestes maurus (contrasting with “Wings present” for M. minutulus).
    Lindroth’s Handbook states “Wings with reflexed apical part but usually too small to be functional” for M. maurus.
    Clearly from your observations at Rye Harbour, Lindroth’s description is more accurate.
    I have come across “Wings absent” before (in Joy (1932) and I think elsewhere) as a shorthand term for “Wings present but obviously too short to be used for flying”. It might save ink but its bound to cause confusion!

  40. Chris Andrews says:

    I don’t think it will be leading too many people astray but the couplet separating Pterostichus madidus from P. aethiops on page 108 states for madidus “Third elytral interval with single dorsal puncture….”

    In my recent experience wading through samples from Wytham Woods, perhaps 20% of P. madidus have 2 punctures (with setae) on one of the elytra (interestingly nearly always the right one) and a single puncture on the other.

    As the couplet uses number of punctures as a dividing character, it might be worth changing the word “with” to “usually” or some such thing.

  41. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Chris, There are a few places in the keys where number of dorsal elytral punctures is useful but it always seems to be variable (e.g. Notiophilus biguttatus and N. quadripunctatus; Agonum (s.s.) species, notably muelleri).

  42. Lionel says:

    Great Website, very complete and informative. There is however a very small mistake, Alsace is a french north eastern (NE) region and not north western (like bretagne, normandie).

  43. markgtelfer says:

    Thanks Lionel – corrected.

  44. Clive Washington says:

    Have just taken four P. oblongopunctatus and I am odds with the description in Luff. He says that the pronotal fovea are hardly punctured each side but mine vary from virtually unpunctured to quite heavily punctured. Also I would not describe the elytral margins as extremely narrow – they are narrow but not remarkably so for Carabids. Should we update the Carabid crib or have I done something horribly wrong?

  45. Rosemary Gamsa says:

    Hi Mark,
    I think I have just IDed a Tachys obtusiusculus, which I found in a cemetery in Bristol. Luff (2007) says it only occurs in the New Forest and Hampshire. Do you know of any other Bristol records, or perhaps any subspecies that could have gotten me confused. Many thanks, Rosemary

  46. markgtelfer says:

    Rosemary, It’s virtually inconceivable that you’ve found obtusiusculus. So check whether there’s anything in the carabid crib, and try using Lindroth’s keys – might get you to a more sensible answer. Good luck.

  47. Sarah Barry says:

    Hi. Not sure if this is they right place to ask but I was looking for identification and some reassurance! I live in Jersey, Channel Islands and every summer I have black beetles coming into my house. They look like a common ground beetle and some of them fly, they are very clumsy when flying and I hear them crash landing on the wooden floor.Are they harmless? Do you know how I can deter them from coming in at night? I spend ages collecting them and putting them back outside! Thanks

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