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Ground Beetles: Predators That Provide Benefits in Agricultural Landscapes

Top profile of an insect with an orange head and second body segment, and a shiny, almost iridescent black abdomen. The 6 legs are orange and the long, thin antenna on the head are also orange. Right: Bottom view of brown beetle. There are two gold arrows pointing to the trochanter, which is the leg segment one segment away from the body.
Figure 1. A) Dorsal view of adult ground beetle with large eyes and chewing mouthparts. B) Ventral view of adult ground beetle with distinct bean-shaped trochanter on hind legs. Courtesy: Ken Chamberlain; Hanna Royals;

Written with contributions by Shelby Pritchard, former SDSU Extension Pest Management Specialist.

Originally Submitted: May 12, 2022

There are many insect pests that are cause for concern to both gardeners and farmers throughout South Dakota. However, it is important to remember that not all insects are pests. There are numerous species of insects that are beneficial to the landscape. In this article we will highlight ground beetles and their importance to both garden and agricultural landscapes. The name ground beetle is used to describe a very diverse group of beetles that are comprised of approximately 2,440 species in North America.

Lifecycle and Identification

Adult ground beetles vary in color and size depending on the species. They are most commonly black or brown to iridescent green or bronze. They range in size from approximately 1/10 to 1 ¾ inches-long and have longitudinal ridges along their forewings (elytra) (Figure 1-A). They have long, thread-like antennae, large eyes and a distinct bean-shaped appendage (trochanter) on both hind legs (Figure 1-B). Ground beetles also have well-developed and often large mouthparts that are used for chewing prey and seeds. Ground beetles belong to the family Carabidae within the order Coleoptera (beetles).

Black insect larva with large, chewing mouthparts, a long abdomen, and visible legs.
Figure 2. Ground beetle larva with distinct body segments and chewing mouthparts. Courtesy: Joseph Berger,

In South Dakota, most species of ground beetles have one generation per year and overwinter as adults in leaf litter or other sheltered areas. Many species of ground beetles are nocturnal and have a life span of 2 to 4 years. Once adults emerge, they mate and lay eggs near the soil surface. Larvae are soil dwellers and undergo three growth stages (instars) before reaching maturity. Ground beetle larvae can be categorized by their distinct body segments and dense exoskeleton, but their color and size vary by species (Figure 2).

Feeding Behavior

Both larvae and adults are voracious predators and can consume up to their body weight in prey each day (Figure 3). Common prey insects include, but are not limited to wireworms, maggots, ants, aphids, caterpillars (armyworms and cutworms) and beetle larvae (cucumber beetle and Colorado potato beetle).

Long black insect larva preying on a light yellow caterpillar on a green leaf.
Figure 3. Ground beetle larva feeding on a caterpillar. Courtesy: Merle Shepard, Gerald R. Carner, P.A.C. Ooi; Insects and their Natural Enemies Associated with Vegetables and Soybean in Southeast Asia;

Ground beetles are primarily nocturnal hunters, and they are capable of moving very quickly, which aides in catching prey and avoiding other predators. However, some species will feed on weed seeds. Ground beetles can be very beneficial to agroecosystems and gardens struggling with both weeds and insect pests.


Ground beetles can occasionally become a nuisance pest when found indoors. They are accidental invaders that do not feed or reproduce indoors. If possible, they should be captured and returned outside. They are considered beneficial insects and provide essential biological control in both agricultural and garden settings, and, therefore, they do not require management.