Burying Beetle: babies or parasites?
I found this swimming around in the cat’s water dish one morning in West Tennessee. I forgot to get a photo with a size reference, but it was about an inch long. I believe it might be a burying beetle? Although its markings differ from the other photos on your site. The freaky part, though, was the swarm of little bugs on its back. They were running around, trying to stay dry. I think they might have eight legs; mites, maybe? At any rate, I put the whole shebang outdoors to continue playing out its drama. I love the site. I saw my first cicada killer last summer, and you guys helped me identify it. Thanks!

Hi D,
These are neither babies nor parasites. They are Mites, but they are not parasitic on the beetle. The young beetle larvae eat rotting carrion, so anything that shares the same diet becomes a threat to the survival of the next generation of Burying Beetles or Sexton Beetles. Maggots, the immature form of flies, are competitors for this food source. The Mites eat fly eggs and freshly hatched maggots. The Mites do not fly and have no means of getting to their next meal once they have eaten all the maggots on a corpse. The Burying Beetle flies from food source to food source. The Mites are just hitching a ride on the Beetle. This is a mutually advantageous or symbiotic relationship. The Mites get a new food source, and they devour the competitors for the young beetles’ food supply. Burying Beetles carrying large quantities of Mites have a better chance of producing offspring. Phoresy is the proper term for one organism hitching a ride on a more mobile organism. We have seen photos of some Burying Beetles so laden with Mites, it is a wonder they can fly.

One Response to Burying Beetle with Mites: Phoresy

  1. shortfish says:

    What an amazing symbiotic relationship, thank you so much for sharing!!

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