There are about 1,134 species in this family, as delimited in the Duff (2012) checklist. This one family thus contains over a quarter of the 4,072 species of beetle. That sheer diversity makes them a daunting prospect and they have generally been shunned by beginners. However, in recent years, thanks in part to the late Derek Lott’s annual series of BENHS workshops and to progress on new RES Handbooks, they have achieved something approaching popularity!
They are often referred to as the ‘rove-beetles’ although in conversation everyone calls them the ‘staphs’. The family has grown in recent years, and by Duff (2008) had absorbed two small families, the Scaphidiidae and Pselaphidae, which now become the subfamilies Scaphidiinae and Pselaphinae within family Staphylinidae. More recently, the 32 species of Scydmaenidae have been absorbed, becoming subfamily Scydmaeninae (Lott, 2009; Duff, 2012). Scaphidiines, pselaphines and scydmaenines all look distinct and I suspect it will take coleopterists quite a while to get used to referring to these species as ‘staphs’, or rove-beetles for that matter.
I more-or-less ignored staphylinids for years, figuring that I’d come to them after I’d got to grips with the other c. 3,000 beetles, if ever. However, I was turned by Derek’s workshops and they are now one of my favourite families. I used to think that there was not much to be gained from identifying staphs: that after a long slog to name your specimen, you’d discover that nothing whatsoever was known of its distribution or ecology. True, they’re not as well understood as, say, carabids but there are lots of habitat-specialist species and I’ve found them to be a very informative group when surveying wetlands, coastal habitats, saproxylic habitats and others.
For starting out on the staphs, here are my tips:
1. Buy Derek Lott’s (2009) RES Handbook to the staphylinid subfamilies Scaphidiinae, Piestinae & Oxytelinae and the Lott and Anderson (2011) RES Handbook to six further subfamilies. Crucially, they both include a really good key to all the staphylinid subfamilies (slightly updated in the 2011 Handbook). There are 19 subfamilies altogether and once you can allocate specimens to subfamily with confidence, the daunting 1,114 can be broken down into manageable chunks (actually only into 18 manageable chunks and one very daunting chunk: the 456 species of Aleocharinae!). I played a long-game with staphs and for a year I just amassed some carded and dissected specimens, doing no more than sorting them into subfamilies. The subfamilies quickly become recognisable and before you know it, you are on your way.
2. Buy Tronquet’s catalogue of the Staphylinidae of the Pyrénées-Orientales, France (Tronquet, 2006). Expect to pay about £60 but for this you get a superb set of photographs covering a wide selection of staphs, including a high proportion of British and Irish species. I know it is sloppy behaviour to identify things by flicking through pictures but Tronquet has saved me a lot of puzzlement over thickly-worded sections of keys, and spared me a lot of wrong turns. £60 well spent. You get a CD-ROM of the images too.
3. Master the techniques. For some of the staphs, you’re going to need to dissect most of your specimens and card them neatly. It’s a faff but it saves time in the long-run; identification of dirty, contorted, undissected specimens may be difficult or impossible, even for the experts.
Identification pages will be provided for each of the subfamilies as follows:
|Omaliinae, Proteininae, Micropeplinae|
|Tachyporinae, Phloeocharinae, Habrocerinae, Trichophyinae|
|Scaphidiinae, Piestinae, Oxytelinae|
|Euaesthetinae, Oxyporinae, Pseudopsinae, Paederinae|
Duff, A.G. (2008). Checklist of beetles of the British Isles. 2008 edition. Wells: A.G. Duff.
Duff, A.G. (2012). Checklist of beetles of the British Isles. 2012 edition. Iver: Pemberley Books.
Lott, D.A. (2009). The Staphylinidae (rove beetles) of Britain and Ireland. Part 5: Scaphidiinae, Piestinae, Oxytelinae. Handbooks for the identification of British insects, vol. 12, part 5. St Albans: Royal Entomological Society.
Lott, D.A. and Anderson, R. (2011). The Staphylinidae (rove beetles) of Britain and Ireland. Parts 7 & 8: Oxyporinae, Steninae, Euaesthetinae, Pseudopsinae, Paederinae, Staphylininae. Handbooks for the identification of British insects, vol. 12, part 7 [sic]. St Albans: Royal Entomological Society.
Tronquet, M. (2006). Catalogue iconographique des Coléoptères des Pyrénées-Orientales. Vol. 1: Staphylinidae. Supplément au Tome XV de la Revue de l’Association Roussillonnaise d’Entomologie. Perpignan: Association Roussillonnaise d’Entomologie.