Beetle Bites – Heteroceridae: the Variegated Mud

The superfamily Byrrhoidea contains a bunch of notable beetles, many of these being aquatic or semiaquatic. Now, a quick question: What is the best family of byrrhoids?


That’s right: Heteroceridae! Sure, they’ve been described “phenotypical uniform” and “morphologically homogeneous.” And yes, they might be “virtually impossible” to reliably identify without deep expertize and “high-powered microscopes,” but just look at that little jerk.

Heterocerus parallelus

Heterocerus parallelus (Photo: K.V. Makarov –

How precious! At least he would be if his face weren’t so grotesquely prognathous. I’m not exactly sure what they do with those snouts; as far as I know, they just sort of rummage around wet, muddy shore habitats looking for seeds or other tidbits. I don’t think anybody really knows what heterocerids are up to, but that doesn’t stop them from being neat little critters.


Heterocerus mollinus (Photo: Mike Quinn –

Here’s what we do know:

They construct little tunnel systems underneath the surface of the mud with those big serrated front legs (fun fact: the German common name for these guys, Sägekäfer, means “saw beetle,” probably referring to those legs). Inside these tunnels, our variegated friends scurry about, make new friends by joining up with other heterocerid tunnels, hide from tiny digging grasshoppers, lay their eggs in tiny brood chambers, and generally live it up beetle-style.

I bet what you did today wasn’t that interesting, given that you’re currently reading about bugs on the Internet. What’s more, heterocerids are one of the few beetle lineages that live next to the ocean on purpose.


Tropicus pusillus (Photo: Mike Quinn –

See, they’re not really all the same (besides, I saw a white one once). Remember to keep an eye out for heterocerids next time you’re next to a stream or lake or sewage pond. Just try to contain your excitement.

Notable characteristics: Dorsally flattened with spiny tibia, short, clubbed antenna; elytra shades of brown, solid or with lighter mottling.

Diversity: 250 species worldwide.


Heterocerus (Photo: Tom Murray –


  • Arnett, Ross H., et al., eds. American Beetles: Polyphaga: Scarabaeoidea through Curculionoidea. Vol. 2. CRC Press, 2002.
  • Aguilera, P., A. Mascagni, and I. Ribera. “The family Heteroceridae MacLeay, 1825 (Coleoptera, Dryopoidea) in the Iberian peninsula and the Balearic Islands.” Miscel· lània Zoològica 21.1 (1998): 75-100.

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