The elytra of this cockchafer beetle are readily distinguished from the transparent hindwings.
Parts of the hemelytra of a typical bug

An elytron (/ˈɛltrɒn/; from Greek ἔλυτρον "sheath, cover"; plural: elytra /-trə/)[1][2][3] is a modified, hardened forewing of certain insect orders, notably beetles (Coleoptera) and a few of the true bugs (Hemiptera) such as the family Schizopteridae; in most true bugs, the forewings are instead called hemelytra (sometimes alternatively spelled as "hemielytra"), as only the basal half is thickened while the apex is membranous. An elytron is sometimes also referred to as a shard.[citation needed]


The elytra primarily serve as protective wing-cases for the hindwings underneath, which are used for flying. To fly, a beetle typically opens the elytra and then extends the hindwings, flying while still holding the elytra open, though some beetles in the families Scarabaeidae and Buprestidae can fly with the elytra closed.

In some groups, the elytra are fused together, rendering the insect flightless. Some of the ground beetles (family Carabidae) are a good example of this.

The term is also used to describe the hard scales of some polychaete worms, notably the Polynoidae.[4] These outgrowths of the body wall are distinguished from chaeta, which grow from follicles and thus possess roots.[5]


  1. ^ Michelle Gleeson (2016), Miniature Lives: Identifying Insects in Your Home and Garden, Csiro Publishing, p. 313, ISBN 9781486301386
  2. ^ Augustus Radcliffe Grote (1909), Canadian Entomologist, 41, Entomological Society of Canada
  3. ^ ἔλυτρον. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  4. ^ Brusca, R. C.; Brusca, G. J. (1990). Invertebrates.
  5. ^ Butterfield, N. J. (2003). "Exceptional Fossil Preservation and the Cambrian Explosion". Integrative and Comparative Biology. 43 (1): 166–177. doi:10.1093/icb/43.1.166. PMID 21680421.