Feather Horned Beetle: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The Feather Horned Beetle, a fascinating and unique insect, is worth getting to know. These beetles, with their distinct feathery antennae, are sure to pique your interest as you learn more about their characteristics and behavior.

Native to Australia, the Feather Horned Beetle (Rhipicera femorata) belongs to the Rhipiceridae family. They are relatively small insects, with body lengths ranging from 10 to 27 millimeters. The most recognizable feature of these beetles is their large, fan-like antennae, which are used for detecting chemical signals within their environment, assisting them in finding mates and food sources. Furthermore, their richly colored, metallic bodies add to their allure as an intriguing species.

Interesting aspects of their life cycle include their preference for laying eggs in dead or decomposing wood. Feather Horned Beetles use their unique antennae to locate these perfect egg-laying sites, ensuring the survival of the next generation.

Feather Horned Beetle Overview

Classification and Family

The Feather Horned Beetle, also known as Rhipicera femorata, is a unique species of beetle belonging to the family Rhipiceridae. This family is part of the larger Coleoptera order.

Identification

Feather Horned Beetles are easily recognizable due to their interesting appearance:

  • Antennae: The most distinctive feature of these beetles is their feather-like antennae, which fan out and can be as wide as the beetle’s body.
  • Body: They have a slender, elongated body with relatively long legs, which set them apart from other beetles.

Size and Color

  • Size: Feather Horned Beetles can vary in size, but generally range between 8-25 mm in length.
  • Color: Their coloration is usually brown or black with an iridescent sheen on their body.

Distribution and Range

  • Geographical Range: These beetles are primarily found in Australia, where they inhabit various types of forests and woodlands.
  • Habitat: Feather Horned Beetles can be found living on tree trunks, fallen logs, or other wood debris.
Feature Feather Horned Beetle
Classification Rhipiceridae
Scientific Name Rhipicera femorata
Length 8-25 mm
Color Brown or Black
Distribution Australia
Preferred Habitats Forests and Woodlands

In summary, the Feather Horned Beetle is an intriguing species of beetle native to Australia. They are easily identified by their unique, feather-like antennae, slender body, and iridescent coloration. Although primarily found on tree trunks and wood debris in forests and woodlands, their range within Australia is quite diverse.

Biology and Lifecycle of Feather Horned Beetle

Anatomy

The Feather Horned Beetle, also known as the featherwing beetles, belongs to the family Ptiliidae. They are known for their distinct, feathery antenna and small size. Males tend to have longer antennae compared to females. Their exoskeleton consists of elytra, which protects their delicate hindwings.

Life Cycle

Feather Horned Beetles undergo a complete metamorphosis, which consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The larvae are polymorphic and develop in different habitats, such as rotting plants or fungi.

Food and Diet

Feather Horned Beetles primarily consume fungi, with their diet including:

  • Plant leaves
  • Decaying wood
  • Rotting plants

While some feed on pests in gardens, others may cause damage to plants.

Reproduction

During mating season, male beetles use pheromones to attract females. After mating, females lay eggs in suitable habitats such as rotting plants or fungi. The life cycle then begins with the eggs hatching into larvae and eventually growing into adult beetles.

Comparison between Males and Females

Characteristics Males Females
Antennae Longer, more feathery Shorter, less feathery
Wings Capable of flying Less frequent flyers
Distribution Wider range More localized

In summary, Feather Horned Beetles are an interesting species with unique anatomy and lifecycle. They play a role in consuming fungi and controlling pests, yet they can also cause damage to plants. Their distinctive antennae and tiny size make them a fascinating subject for further study and observation.

Interaction with Environment

Environmental Impact

The Feather Horned Beetle, known for its unique appearance, plays a small role in ecosystems. These beetles:

  • Contribute to the natural decomposition process
  • Feed on organic matter, leaves, and wood debris

While they can be considered part of nature’s cleaning crew, they don’t have a significant impact on the environment compared to other insects.

Relationship with Ants

Feather Horned Beetles are interesting creatures when it comes to their interaction with ants. Some other types of beetles, like the Cockroach Claspwing Platerodrilus Beetle, have symbiotic relationships with ants, living in their nests and benefiting from their protection. It is unclear if Feather Horned Beetles have such interactions with ants.

Role as Pest or Beneficial Insect

In contrast to some other types of beetles, like the Old House Borer or the Eastern Hercules Beetle, Feather Horned Beetles are generally not considered pests. They don’t cause significant damage to gardens, homes, or crops. However, they also don’t provide major benefits like pollination or significant pest control.

Beetle Type Pest or Beneficial? Main Impact
Feather Horned Beetle None Minimal environmental impact
Old House Borer Pest Damage wooden structures
Eastern Hercules Beetle None Impressive appearance, but little environmental or economic impact

In conclusion, Feather Horned Beetles are fascinating creatures that don’t cause significant damage to the environment and don’t have a substantial impact as pests or beneficial insects. They are worth knowing about due to their unique features and interesting relationship with other creatures, like ants.

Other Related Beetles

Scarab Beetle

Scarab beetles belong to the family Scarabaeidae and can be found in various subfamilies. They are generally stout-bodied insects with shiny shells. Some common characteristics of scarab beetles include:

  • Size: They range from 1 to 160 millimetres in length.
  • Grubs: Scarab beetle larvae are known as grubs, which can be found in compost, decaying wood, or soil.
  • Habitat: They are widespread across North America.

Some notable examples of scarab beetles are the dung beetle and the Japanese beetle.

Featherwing Beetles

Featherwing beetles, from the family Ptiliidae, are some of the smallest known insects. Notable features include:

  • Size: They typically measure between 0.3 to 1.5 millimetres in length.
  • Reproduction: They reproduce through thelytokous parthenogenesis, wherein females produce offspring without mating.
  • Habitat: They are usually found in leaf litter, rotting wood, or compost.

The family Ptiliidae consists of 3 subfamilies.

Soldier Beetle

The soldier beetle, specifically Chauliognathus lugubris, has a unique appearance with soft, elongated bodies. Some key features of soldier beetles include:

  • Diet: They feed on small insects, nectar, and pollen.
  • Habitat: They are commonly found on flowers and plants.

A comparison of these three beetles:

Beetle Type Size Reproduction Habitat
Scarab Beetle 1-160 millimetres Typical sexual reproduction Compost, decaying wood, soil
Featherwing Beetle 0.3-1.5 millimetres Thelytokous parthenogenesis Leaf litter, rotting wood, compost
Soldier Beetle Narrow, elongated bodies Typical sexual reproduction Flowers, plants

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Feather Horned Beetle from Australia

 

What insect is this?
Location: Toowoomba Queensland Australia
January 20, 2011 3:47 am
Hi I was outside about to hang the clothes when I saw this strange peculiar insect on the line? I never seen such a funny looking insect with these big antennas. I thought it was such a wonderful looking thing that I had to grab the camera to get this on film. Lucky it was still there when I returned I was so delighted to see such an insect I have been so curious to find out what it was? Could you possibly know what it is? This was outside in Toowoomba Queensland Australia. Thank you.
Signature: Dazed and Amazed

Feather Horned Beetle

Dear Dazed and Amazed,
Those are some impressive antennae on this aptly named Feather Horned Beetle,
Rhipicera femoralis, in the family Rhipiceridae.  This is a new species, new family and new category for our website.  We identified your Feather Horned Beetle on the Life Unseen website which has some nice photos, but no information.  According to the Ausscape International Photo Library website, the Feather Horned Beetle is also called the Fan Horned Beetle.  One of the nicest images of the Feather Horned Beetle is on the Patti Flynn Soapmaker blogCsiro Entomology has the most information available to the general web browsing public, including:  “This small family has not been well studied in Australia and as a result little is known of their biology and ecology. There are only 6 species of Rhipiceridae in Australia and all belong to the genus Rhipicera. Adults range in size from 10 to 25 millimetres in length and can be recognised by their large fan-like antennae. The antennae of males are unusual in that they have more than 20 segments and arise from small knob-like prominences. Most species are grey-black in colour with white spots on the elytra and pronotum, formed by patches of hair.  The larvae of Australian species is unknown and in North America Sandalus niger is the only known rhipicerid larva. This larval species is grub-like and lightly sclerotised, with conical shaped antennae consisting of just one segment. The first instar are triungulin-like, meaning they appear similar to the larvae of blister beetles (Meloidae) which are long-legged and parasitic. The later instars are ectoparasitic on the nymphs of cicadas. It is thought the first instars of Sandalus niger attach themselves to the cicada nymphs before they enter the soil.”  If the closest relatives found in North America (see BugGuide) are known as Cicada Parasite Beetles, it might be deduced that the same might be true of the Australian members of the family since Australia has such a robust population of Cicadas.

Letter 2 – Feather Horned Beetle from Australia

 

Subject:  Feather horned beetle
Geographic location of the bug:  Gondiwindi Qld
Date: 04/19/2018
Time: 06:44 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Not sure if you’re still interested in these submissions. I found this one on the clothesline also! They must pick up better signal on the old hillshoists.
How you want your letter signed:  Caleb

Feather Horned Beetle

Dear Caleb,
Your images of this Feather Horned Beetle,
Rhipicera femoralis, are positively gorgeous, and we always enjoy posting beautiful images.  According to biologist Dr. Carin Bondar on Facebook:  “Aren’t those antennae just amazing?  The large surface provides more space for chemoreceptors which are necessary to smell pheromones and find a partner.”

Feather Horned Beetle
Feather Horned Beetle

Letter 3 – Feather Horned Beetle from Australia

 

Subject: Identify our cute insect
Location: Perth, Western Australia
May 12, 2013 8:19 pm
We found this little guy yesterday sitting on our car and have never seen anything like it! Other internet sites haven’t been very helpful in identification. His antennae are also quite odd they look a little like false eyelashes? Can you identify him for us?
Signature: Jemma, Australia

Feather Horned Beetle
Feather Horned Beetle

Dear Jemma,
These are by far the best images we have ever received of a Feather Horned Beetle,
Rhipicera femoralis.  These really are amazing looking beetles.  We have not had much luck finding information on this distinctive beetle, but Pinterest states:  “The antennae of males are unusual in that they have more than 20 segments and arise from small knob-like prominences.”  Chris Mallory has a marvelous photo posted of this species.  So, while there are photos of this species available online, credible information is noticeably lacking.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to point us to a website with relevant information on the Feather Horned Beetle.

Feather Horned Beetle
Feather Horned Beetle
Feather Horned Beetle
Feather Horned Beetle

 

Letter 4 – Feather Horned Beetle from Australia

 

Subject: Feather Horned Beetle
Location: Toowoomba, Queensland
April 9, 2015 9:01 pm
I have identified the unusual critter from my photo, from a previous posting on your website.
Thank you for satisfying my curiosity. I just thought I’d forward my photos to you as well.
Photo was taken 6 April 2015.
Signature: Leanne W.

Feather Horned Beetle
Feather Horned Beetle

Dear Leanne,
Thanks so much for sending in your gorgeous images of a Feather Horned Beetle,
Rhipicera femoralis.

Feather Horned Beetle
Feather Horned Beetle

Letter 5 – Feather Horned Beetle from Australia

 

Subject: Feather Horned Beetle
Location: Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia
March 23, 2014 12:03 am
Hey Bugman,
Came across a Feather Horned Beetle today on a walk around Berry’s Beach and Pyramid Rock on Phillip Island Victoria, Australia. Your site allowed me to determine what it was, and noticed you didn’t have many photos so here’s one for your collection 🙂
Cheers,
Signature: Lauren

Feather Horned Beetle
Feather Horned Beetle

Dear Lauren,
Your Feather Horned Beetle,
Rhipicera femoralis, is a wonderful addition to our archives.  Thank you so much for sending in a photo of a magnificent species that you had already self-identified.

Letter 6 – Feather Horned Beetle from Australia

 

Subject: Feather-Horned Beetle – Rhipicera femorata
Location: Mount Gambier, South Australia
February 23, 2017 1:06 am
Found this beautiful little man today while out taking photos. Its a male Rhipicera femorata. They are uncommon and little is known about them, and i thought you and your readers might enjoy some nice photos 🙂
Taken on 23/02/2017, Mount Gambier, South Australia
Signature: – Liam

Feather Horned Beetle

Dear Liam,
This is a very good morning for us.  Generally, the beginning of the year is not the busiest time for our site as winter envelops the northern hemisphere and most of our submissions are blurry images sent by desperate homemakers who find carpet beetles, stink bugs, bed bugs, cockroaches and other household intruders that they fear and loath.  Your submission is the third beautiful and wondrous posting for us today.  We really prefer posting images from people who appreciate the beauty of the lower beasts.  While Feather Horned Beetles are not new to our site, your images are especially lovely.  According to the Atlas of Living Australia:  “Adults may not feed, but fly readily in fine weather. During their short summer flight season, males greatly outnumber females; their flabellate antennae are presumably particularly sensitive to the female’s scent and help them to home in on her. The larvae are thought to be parasites of the nymphs of cicadas living in sandy soils.”  According to Featured Creature:  “The males differ from the females in that their anntenae are much larger and more pronounced. Those anntenae are unique due to the fact that they have more than 20 segments and arise from small knob-like prominences.”

Feather Horned Beetle

Letter 7 – Feather Horned Beetle from Australia

 

Feather-horned beetle

Feather Horned Beetle

Feather-horned beetle
Location: Perth, Western Australia
April 18, 2011 7:18 pm
These are some of my photos, they look even better if you have a program that allows you to zoom in. Beautiful sunny autumn day in Perth, April 2011.
Signature: Kelly

Feather Horned Beetle

Dear Kelly,
We are positively thrilled to post all of your photos of the magnificent Feather Horned Beetle,
Rhipicera femoralis.  The only other images we have of Feather Horned Beetles were posted a few months ago.

Feather Horned Beetle

Letter 8 – Feather Horned Beetle from Australia

 

Subject: Feather Horned Beetle
Location: Perth, WA, Australia
May 2, 2015 11:34 pm
My daughter found this beetle in our backyard. We did have a smaller beetle without the fancy antennae but by the time I got the camera the smaller beetle had disappeared.
We were able to identify it from your site and thought that you may be interested.
Signature: Chris McMillan

Feather Horned Beetle
Feather Horned Beetle

Dear Chris,
Your images of a Feather Horned Beetle,
Rhipicera femoralis, are an excellent addition to our archive.

Feather Horned Beetle
Feather Horned Beetle

Letter 9 – Feather Horned Beetle from Australia

 

Subject:  Bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Perth Western Australia
Date: 05/02/2019
Time: 06:07 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Just loved the look of this bug. Not sure what it is never seen anything like it. Hope you like the photos. Would love to know more about it.
How you want your letter signed:  Babs Brennan

Feather Horned Beetle

Dear Babs,
We do love your images of a male Feather Horned Beetle,
Rhipicera femoralis.

Feather Horned Beetle

Letter 10 – Feather Horned Beetle from Australia

 

Subject:  Feather Horned Beetle
Date: 03/29/2021
Time: 10:39 PM EDT
Geographic location of the bug:  Toowoomba QLD 4350
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi,
I found this little guy on a friend’s driveway after returning from a walk this morning. He intrigued me,so I gently collected him in a jar and brought him home. Firstly we did a ‘photo shoot’, then I released him into my garden, then with the help of my daughter who I was telling about the bug over the phone, we dug up some information on this amazing insect, hence leading me to your website.
Thought you might like to see him, seeing they aren’t overly common.
How you want your letter signed:  Cindy

Feather Horned Beetle

Dear Cindy,
Thank you so much for submitting your awesome images of a Feather Horned Beetle to What’s That Bug?  We love posting beautiful images of amazing insects from around the world and we love educating the curious public about those “bugs”.  Daniel has been on hiatus for quite some time, and he is really excited to return to posting regularly to WTB?

Feather Horned Beetle

Good afternoon,
A delight to receive your reply.
I am excited to contact you again, as we have just returned from a long walk and in a suburb not far from home, we had to go under a tree overhanging the footpath. There was lots of bugs flying around it, then my daughter exclaims rather excitedly… ‘Mum, they’re your bugs, your eyelash bugs’. I was very excited and stood watching many flitting about.
The other coincidental thing is that last night my daughter was sitting quietly on the lounge, then all of a sudden she sprang off in fright whilst trying to get something off her neck. Thankfully she didn’t swat at it, as it was an eyelash bug that must have got caught in her very long curly red hair when we brought the washing in just prior.
It is obviously the season for these beautiful wonders of nature as they seem abundant in Toowoomba.
Thanks for your time.
Cindy Ryan

Authors

  • Daniel Marlos

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

13 thoughts on “Feather Horned Beetle: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. I saw one of these on my clothes line this morning! (they must like clothes lines) I was so amazed I watched it for over half an hour and took some great photos. Shame so little is known about them.

    Kelly, Western Australia

    Reply
    • Hi Kelly,
      We would love to post some of your photos. Please submit them by going to the “Ask WTB?” link on our website and submitting the form.

      Reply
  2. I’ve just found what looks like a variation in color to this species and a female, so she doesnt have those impressive antennae the males sport but is still rather impressive. Been hunting down info on what these eat particularly and their distribution etc. Quite an active creature but non aggressive. Mistook it to start with as a species of weevil due to the odd mouthparts and antennae.

    Reply
  3. We have these feather horn beetles at Mt Martha on the Mornington peninsula ,Victoria.
    Usually around Feb/March
    They seem to like the tea tree
    I have also seen some with straight antennae with little bits about 1mm sticking up vertically along the main part-I have wondered if they are females with the males having the feathery antennae
    They are easy to catch as they fly relatively slowly and seem to hang in the air with the body hanging down.
    You can put your hand in front of them and they land on it
    i took one into our supermarket to show people how beautiful they are
    I was in Airey’s Inlet on the great ocean road last week and saw one flying there to my excitement
    I have seen a pamphlet about the grasslands north of Melbourne where they are part of the ecology
    They are my favourite beetle!!

    Reply
  4. We have these feather horn beetles at Mt Martha on the Mornington peninsula ,Victoria.
    Usually around Feb/March
    They seem to like the tea tree
    I have also seen some with straight antennae with little bits about 1mm sticking up vertically along the main part-I have wondered if they are females with the males having the feathery antennae
    They are easy to catch as they fly relatively slowly and seem to hang in the air with the body hanging down.
    You can put your hand in front of them and they land on it
    i took one into our supermarket to show people how beautiful they are
    I was in Airey’s Inlet on the great ocean road last week and saw one flying there to my excitement
    I have seen a pamphlet about the grasslands north of Melbourne where they are part of the ecology
    They are my favourite beetle!!

    Reply
  5. We are at Cowes, Vic and have observed these beetles in our road reserve, paperbark, tea-tree hedge over recent years. Currently, there are approx. 20 beetles which drift in and amongst the tea-tree branches but also move further out to above the roadway where there are eucalypts on the road reserve opposite. I have been trying to determine their activity time. It seems that they appear mid to late morning – but only in very still conditions on a sunny day. Within a couple of hours they have retreated to wherever they rest and they do not return for the remainder of the day. I noticed that they sometimes bump into twigs so perhaps their eyesight is poor. They also hover towards the observer as if about to land, but then avoid contact. There is a cluster of small holes in the soil below where the beetles are observed and I wonder if this site is related to how the beetles emerge.

    Reply
  6. I have these amazing creatures breeding in my back yard at the moment. Mine also sit on the clothes line. I was able to stand right next to a male at eye level, and he was literally sitting there looking around for about 20 minutes. Foothills of Perth Western Australia.

    Reply
  7. I have also seen this creature on my washing line twice, the second time in my backyard in the western suburbs of Perth on Friday, 18 May 2018 where he walked along the line like a champion! They must love washing lines to balance on and survey their territory.

    Reply
  8. I just found one on my washing line today, Perth Western Australia. First time in my 55 years I’ve ever seen one. Took a wonderful photo of him then googled him. 21st April 2019

    Reply

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