Darkling beetle

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Darkling beetle
Darkling beetle.jpg
Alphitobius sp. (Tenebrioninae: Alphitobiini)
Scale bar (top right) is 2 millimeters
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Suborder: Polyphaga
Superfamily: Tenebrionoidea
Family: Tenebrionidae
Latreille, 1802

Darkling beetle is the common name of the large family of beetles, Tenebrionidae. The number of species in the Tenebrionidae is estimated at more than 20,000 and the family is cosmopolitan. Human transport has spread several individual species inadvertently so that each of them has become cosmopolitan. Examples include Tribolium castaneum and other now-cosmopolitan pests of stored products.

Taxonomy and naming[edit]

The name Tenebrionidae means roughly: "those that are like Tenebrio"; Tenebrio was the Latin generic name that Linnaeus had assigned to some flour beetles in his 10th edition of Systema Naturae 1758-59.[1] Tenebrio in turn literally means "seeker of dark places"[2] or figuratively a trickster. In English "darkling" is a more or less literal translation of tenebrio, meaning "dweller in dark".[3]

Many species do inhabit dark places, but there are exceptions; for example many species of Tenebrionidae in genera such as Stenocara and Onymacris are active by day and inactive at night. The name Tenebrionidae accordingly reflects the knowledge available to the taxonomists who first assigned the name; it is not a general reflection of Tenebrionid biology.

The family Tenebrionidae not only includes a large number of species, but an immensely varied range of forms, so much so that it presents great difficulties in classification. Taxonomic work still is in progress, but the following list of subfamilies was largely accepted in 2005.[4]

The misspelling "T e r e b r i o n i d a e", though unusual, occurs frequently enough to be a nuisance and, because it is easily overlooked, it is a possible source of confusion in scans of the literature.[5][6] The error appears to have no particular significance, but to be the product of misreadings, mis-scans, and mis-typings.


The Tenebrionidae may be identified by a combination of features, including :

  • 11-segmented antennae that may be filiform, moniliform, or weakly clubbed
  • First abdominal sternite entire and not divided by the hind coxae
  • Eyes notched by a frontal ridge
  • Tarsi have four segments in the hind pair and five in the fore and mid legs (5-5-4), tarsal claws are simple

Biology and ecology[edit]

Most darkling beetles are generalistic omnivores, and feed on decaying leaves, rotting wood, fresh plant matter, dead insects, and fungi as larvae and adults.[7] However, several genera, including 'Bolitotherus', are specialized fungivores which feed on polypores.[8]

Species within the Tenebrionidae occupy ecological niches in mainly deserts and forests as plant scavengers. The larvae, known as mealworms or false wireworms, are fossorial, heavily armored, and nocturnal, and may possibly be an important resource for certain invertebrates and small mammals. However, the adults of many species have chemical defenses and are relatively protected against predators. [9]

Some species live in intensely dry deserts such as the Namib, and have evolved adaptions by which they collect droplets of fog that deposit on their elytra. As the droplets accumulate the water drains down the beetles' backs to their mouthparts, where they swallow it.

Notable species[edit]

The larval stages of several species are cultured as feeder insects for captive insectivores or as laboratory subjects:

  • In southwestern North America, species of the genus Eleodes (particularly E. obscurus) are well known as "pinacate beetles" or "desert stink beetles".
  • Several genera, such as Stenocara and Onymacris, are of interest in ecological studies of arid conditions and their associated adaptations.

Image gallery[edit]


  1. ^ Caroli Linnæi. Animalium specierum
  2. ^ Jaeger, Edmund Carroll (1959). A source-book of biological names and terms. Springfield, Ill: Thomas. ISBN 0-398-06179-3. 
  3. ^ Brown, Lesley (1993). The New shorter Oxford English dictionary on historical principles. Oxford [Eng.]: Clarendon. ISBN 0-19-861271-0. 
  4. ^ Bouchard, Patrice. Lawrence,John F. Davies, Anthony E. Newton, Alfred F. Synoptic Classification of the World Tenebrionidae (Insecta: Coleoptera) with a Review of Family-Group Names. ANNALES ZOOLOGICI (Warszawa), 2005, 55(4): 499-530
  5. ^ Dennis S. Hill (1997). The Economic Importance of Insects. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 109–. ISBN 978-0-412-49800-8. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ http://bugguide.net/node/view/152
  8. ^ http://bugguide.net/node/view/7187
  9. ^ http://bugguide.net/node/view/152

External links[edit]