The members of this family are all alike, although the smallest is around 1 mm long and the largest 15 mm. All have strongly chitinized teguments. They are often black or dark brown, sometimes reddish brown, and some species have red marks on the elytra.
Their short antennae end with a club. The elytra, shorter than the abdomen, do not cover the last two segments. Hister beetles live in various biotopes but only those where they find decaying organic substances, such excrement, carcasses, dead trees with loosened bark, old mushrooms growing on the ground or on the trees, sap or other juices. They also live in the nests of mammals, birds, and other insects (especially ant nests). Adults and larvae prey on soft-bodied larvae of other insects. If they are threatened, adults bring their legs near the body and cease to move.