Adults of this large family of predaceous beetles are 0.5-10 mm long, shiny black to blackish brown and sometimes metallic or with red markings, and with elbowed and clubbed antennae. Elytra are truncated, leaving the two apical segments of the abdomen exposed. When alarmed they retract the antennae and legs and remain motionless. Larvae are pale yellow and generally without sclerotization; the mandibles and palpi are prominent, and abdominal segment 9 is broad and bears two-segmented cerci. Species live in dung and decaying organic matter, some under bark or in the tunnels of wood-infesting beetles. Several genera are found in ant nests and some in termite colonies. Carcinopspumilio is the most common histerid found in stored products; other species include Gnathonus nanus and G. nannetensis.

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