The American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) is the largest carrion beetle in North America, reaching lengths of 1.0 to 1.8 inches (25 to 35 centimeters) 1.
Unique among insects, both male and female burying beetles engage in parental care, working together to bury their food source and tending to their offspring 2.
Having once inhabited 35 states, the American burying beetle now only exists in a few 2. Its fascinating lifecycle and diminishing habitat make it an important species to learn about and protect for future generations.
Various management practices have been developed to help conserve this threatened critter 3.
American Burying Beetle: An Overview
The American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) is a large and distinctive insect. Its key features include:
- Size: Approximately 1.0 to 1.8 inches (25 to 35 centimeters) in length
- Color: Black body with orange-red markings on its elytra
- Pronotum: Pronounced, with a unique shape and markings for easy identification
Here’s a brief comparison with other beetles in North America:
|American Burying Beetle
|1.0 – 1.8
|Black & Red
|Eastern Hercules Beetle
|1.2 – 2.7
|Greenish grey or yellowish
|0.5 – 1.0
Habitat and Distribution
As mentioned above, the American burying beetle was once widespread across 35 U.S. states. However, its range has now dramatically decreased, and the beetle is found only in:
- A few states in the Central and eastern United States
- Two small areas in Oklahoma and Texas
Some factors contributing to their reduced habitat include:
- Deforestation: Loss of wooded areas
- Pesticides: Chemicals harming the beetle population
- Population decline: Decrease in small mammal species (their primary food source)
Diet and Feeding
American burying beetles are primarily scavengers, feeding on dead animals. They have an interesting feeding behavior, as they:
- Locate a small dead animal using its strong sense of smell
- Bury the carcass underground to protect it from other beetles or predators
- Lay eggs on the carcass
- Stay with their offspring underground, feeding and protecting them until they hatch
This diet and feeding behavior make the American burying beetle a key species in the decomposition and recycling processes in their ecosystem.
Reproduction and Parenting
Mating and Egg Laying
The American burying beetle’s reproductive process begins with mating. The male and female beetles engage in a search for a suitable carcass to bury, which serves as a source of nourishment for their offspring.
These beetles breed once a year, particularly during June or July.
Once a carcass is found and buried, the female beetle lays her eggs nearby. This process is referred to as egg laying. The number of eggs laid typically ranges from 10 to 30.
Parental care is an essential aspect of the American burying beetle’s life cycle. Both the male and female beetles work together to care for their eggs and larvae.
Notable behaviors of parental care include:
- Carcass preparation: The beetles remove fur or feathers from the carcass and apply secretions to prevent decay.
- Feeding assistance: Both parents regurgitate pre-digested food for their larvae, ensuring they have adequate nourishment.
- Protection: The beetles actively defend their offspring from potential predators and parasites.
After the eggs hatch, the larvae emerge and begin feeding on the prepared carcass. The parents continue to provide care and nourishment during this stage.
Some key aspects of the larvae stage include:
- Rapid development: The larvae grow quickly and molt several times before reaching the pupal stage.
- Pupal stage: After their final molt, the larvae enter the pupal stage, where they transform into adult beetles.
This table shows a comparison of their developmental stages and their respective durations.
Therefore, the reproductive process of the American burying beetle involves mating, egg-laying, parental care, and the development of larvae.
Through these combined efforts, the beetles maximize the survival and growth of their offspring in the wild.
Conservation Status and Efforts
The American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) was initially classified as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
However, recent efforts have led to its reclassification from endangered to threatened status.
Current Conservation Measures
Several initiatives are in place to protect the American burying beetle:
- Habitat protection: Preserving and restoring habitats to support beetle populations.
- Captive breeding programs: Increasing beetle numbers in controlled environments before reintroduction into the wild.
- Reducing pesticide exposure: Implementing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices to minimize harmful impacts on beetles.
The following table shows the pros and cons of each of these conservation measures.
|Preserves natural environments
|Limited resources for large-scale efforts
|Captive breeding programs
|Boosts population numbers
|Possible loss of genetic diversity
|Reducing pesticide exposure
|Promotes healthier ecosystems
|Challenges in balancing pest control and beetle protection
The Role of American Burying Beetle in the Ecosystem
The American burying beetle plays a crucial role in ecosystems as scavengers. They feed on animal carcasses, mainly small vertebrates like birds and mammals. The key benefits of these beetles include:
- Breaking down carcasses, which helps recycle nutrients into the ecosystem
- Reducing disease transmission risk from dead animals
Relation to Other Animals
American burying beetles interact with various animals in their habitats:
- Carrion beetles and other scavengers compete for resources, such as carcasses
- Predators like birds and mammals may prey on burying beetles
- The beetles host red mites, which can impact their populations
The American burying beetle faces several future challenges, as summarized above. Habitat loss and climate change may threaten beetle populations and the important role they play in maintaining carrion ecosystem health.
United States Distribution
The American burying beetle, also known as the giant carrion beetle, was once found in 32 states across the United States.
However, their current distribution is significantly reduced, and they are now primarily found in a handful of states, including Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Texas, Rhode Island, and Oklahoma.
These beetles prefer oak-hickory forests as their habitat and are known for staying underground during the daytime.
Notable populations are found on Nantucket and Block Island, which are the last remaining northeastern populations.
While there is limited information related to the American burying beetle’s presence in Canada, its southern plains range is known to be a key area for conservation efforts.
In the southern plains, estimated habitat suitability is studied to help assess and protect the species.
Breeding Population Monitoring
Monitoring the breeding populations of the American burying beetle is essential for its conservation, especially considering its status as a threatened species.
Habitat degradation, alteration, and fragmentation pose major challenges for this beetle. Efforts are undertaken to track changes in population numbers and distribution. A few examples of monitoring methods include:
- Live trapping and mark-recapture techniques to estimate population size
- Remote sensing technology to monitor habitat changes
Research and monitoring of the American burying beetle are valuable to guide conservation efforts and protect this threatened species as it faces challenges due to habitat changes and fragmentation.
The American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) is a unique and significant insect in North America, just like its close relative the Tomentose Burying Beetle.
With its extraordinary parental care and role as a scavenger, it once thrived in 32 states but is now found only in a few areas due to habitat loss and other human-induced factors.
Conservation efforts, such as habitat protection and captive breeding programs, aim to preserve this threatened species and its essential ecological contributions.
The beetle’s survival remains critical for maintaining ecosystem health and nutrient recycling in the wild.
American Burying Beetle – Readers’ Mail
Over the years, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some beautiful images asking us about American Burying Beetles. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Burying Beetle with Mites
What is this flying black bug with orange spots?
August 10, 2009
I’ve never seen a bug quite like this one, it flew into my house and ended up landing on a washcloth, where I was able to get a picture.
It was covered in tiny spiders so as soon as I got the picture I put the bug and the washcloth outside, but I’m still curious as to what it was exactly. It was 1-2 inches long, and definitely had wings and three pairs of legs. Its antennae and legs were furry.
This is a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus, but we cannot tell you the exact species. None of the examples posted to BugGuide illustrate four distinct red spots in a row across the elytra or wing covers.
The Burying Beetle was transporting Mites, not spiders. The Mites use the Burying Beetle to travel from location to location, a phenomenon known as phoresy, in order to take advantage of flight to access a new food source.
Burying Beetles will bury small dead creatures like birds or mice and lay eggs on the carcass. The young feed on the rotting flesh.
The Mites feed on fly eggs and maggots, so phoresy is mutually advantageous to the Mites and the Burying Beetles. The Mites get a food source and the Burying Beetle benefits because more rotting flesh is available to its progeny.
We will see if Eric Eaton can assist us in an exact species identification.
Update from Eric Eaton
I’m pretty sure this is just a variation of the Sexton beetle Nicrophorus defodiens. It is highly variable in its markings, as evidenced by the individual specimens in the image gallery here:
I know I have seen very similar specimens from northwest Oregon, too.
Letter 2 – Burying Beetles eat mouse
Subject: Mouse-eating bugs
Location: Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
August 2, 2012, 8:30 pm
It’s summer here, August 2nd, and I found these bugs outside in the evening devouring a dead mouse. They could fly, and occasionally they would fight each other.
Also, it appeared as though they may have been carrying their babies on their backs. They were incredibly active, especially when fighting with each other, any idea what they are?
These are Burying Beetles or Sexton Beetles in the genus Nicrophorus, and Burying Beetles are best know for burying small dead animals and guarding the corpse while their larvae develop in the putrefying flesh.
It appears this mouse is on concrete, and the Burying Beetles are unable to bury it on site and it is too heavy for them to transport.
The babies you mentioned are most like Phoretic Mites which use the Burying Beetles’ ability to fly to hitchhike to a new food source.
The mites will feed on maggots and fly eggs so this is a symbiotic relationship between the Burying Beetles and the Phoretic Mites.
The Mites get transportation and the Bury Beetles benefit because there is more rotting flesh for their young, ensuring that more larvae will have enough food to mature and perpetuate the next generation.
You can get additional information on Burying Beetles on BugGuide.
Letter 3 – Burying Beetle
While mushroom picking this September on the northeastern shore of Lake Winnipeg, I found this Hallowe’en colored beetle along with some carrion beetles munching on a rotting Boletus badius.
Would you identify it for me, please?
This is a Burying Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. They feed on carrion but are also attracted to rotting fungus.
Letter 4 – Burying Beetle Covered in Mites
Love your site! A new website record for you–number of bugs per inch
Here’s a picture that has got to be a record for the number of bugs per square inch. A bug buddy of mine tells me this is a Nicrophorus (negrita?) carrion beetle (about the size of a large bumblebee).
Hard to tell with all the pinhead-sized phoretic mites covering it. After some “Googling”, I found that the mites actually have a mutual symbiotic relationship with the beetles (although they really were a hindrance to this beetle!).
The mites use the beetle for transport and then destroy blowfly eggs and other competitors of the beetle at the carcass.
This beetle could hardly get in the air, but it managed to fly through my back door (buzzing loudly) and crash around before I could catch it. I’m not normally scared of bugs, but this was a little creepy.
Since they’re all good guys, back out the door they go! I’ll try to get a few more pix before I do that. The mites kept running around quite rapidly as well, which probably didn’t help.
Brinnon WA (Olympic Penninsula area)
A killer photo as well as the research that needs to accompany it. You are awesome.
Update from Barry M. OConnor (05/23/2006)
Mites on burying beetles. These are as you indicate, phoretic mites in the family Parasitidae, genus Poecilochirus. Species in this genus all have obligate relationships with silphid beetles.
Although they will feed on fly eggs, they also feed from the vertebrate carrion as well.
Letter 5 – Burying Beetle covered in Phoretic Mites
beetle with offspring?
Hi There. We found this creature in our house one evening. It had small, moving, red creatures(?) on its back which I thought might be offspring or parasites. I’ve never seen this type of bug before.
Can you help? We live in Santa Barbara, CA. Thanks for your help.
This is a Burying Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. Here is a quote from a posting Eric Eaton made to Bugguide: “The mites are phoretic, meaning they are only using the beetle as transportation.
This is a carrion beetle (Nicrophorus sp.), and once it arrives at a carcass, the mites will disembark (de-beetle?), and go about feeding on the eggs of blow flies, the beetle’s major competition for the corpse. So, the mites actually benefit the beetle.”
Update from Barry M. OConnor (05/23/2006)
Mites on burying beetles. These are as you indicate, phoretic mites in the family Parasitidae, genus Poecilochirus.
Species in this genus all have obligate relationships with silphid beetles. Although they will feed on fly eggs, they also feed from the vertebrate carrion as well.
Letter 6 – Burying Beetle
Found your cool site and wondered if you could identify this beetle. We found a couple of them and several larvae in a pile of dog poop behind our home in Anchorage.
It seemed to be an inch long and about .5 inch wide. My wife said it opened up it its wings but did not fly. Its antennae are really wild looking. It dug itself into the grass/ground quickly after turning it loose.
Neither of us has ever seen one and both have lived in Alaska all our lives. Thanks,
Mike & Heather
Hi Mike and Heather,
You have a species of Burying Beetle. These beetles eat carrion. I have read that a pair can bury a small mouse in a few hours. A hole is dug under the corpse which is eventually buried.
Then eggs are laid on the dead critter which serves as food for the growing larvae. We were uncertain as to the exact species, and Eric Eaton has informed us that certain identification would be time-consuming but it belongs to the Genus Nicrophorus.
Letter 7 – Burying Beetle
was thinking that this is an American burying beetle and was hoping u could confirm.
I live in the st. louis region of missouri and if it is they haven’t been seen in this state for 25 years are so and are in the “Animals of Conservation Concern”I found them under a decaying turtle after photoing them they were returned to their meal unharmed.
I do have a few more pictures if u need. thanx alot for your time and this great website.
Hi Steven, The photo shows a captive Burying Beetle most probably Nicrophorus sayi.
Letter 8 – Burying Beetle
I discovered this guy hiding under ground cover…. Perfect timing—he looks like the Halloween bug…. Some borer or beetle I guess…if you know the name, I’d appreciate it! Thanks,
This is one of the Burying Beetles, so named because they bury small dead animals that act as a larval food source.
Letter 9 – Burying Beetle
Hi, glad to find your site. You can answer at my home address I’ve sent a
copy to. I found an insect in my bathroom on the floor, and took it outside. Found an identical one a few days later, this time in the sink. I did make a digital photo of it and was wondering if I may send it to you as an attachment.
I believe this creature was about an inch long, looks like a beetle but the rear half of the body has no wings. If it lands upside down it cannot right itself. Its base color is black, with bright accents on the rear half of the body.
Let me know about the pic and I’ll send it right off to you. Its mouth parts are easy to see. It was not touchy and had no problem with crawling right on to a piece of paper so I could take it outside.
You have found a Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus species, which is an extremely interesting beetle. The adults are capable of burying the entire carcass of a small animal, like a mouse, which they dig under until the body falls into the hole.
It then is buried and becomes the food source of the larvae after the eggs have been deposited on the corpse.
According to Borror, Triplehorn, and Johnson in their book An Introduction to the Study of Insects, “These beetles are remarkably strong.
A pair may move an animal as large as a rat several feet to get it to a suitable spot for burying.” Adults and grubs both feed on carrion. Thank you for sending the images.
Thank you! That was very fast. Seems to be a very useful insect.
08/01/2005) We Stand Corrected
Nicrophorus picture On the first beetle page there is a picture dated 9/11/2003 of a Nicrophorus. You have identified it as Nicrophorus Americana.
N. Americana has a reddish-orange pronotum (the upper part of the body between the head and the elytra.
The specimen would also be small for americana if the coin in the upper left hand corner is a nickle (americana would be about twice this size).
Brett Ratcliffe at the University of Nebraska might be able to tell you what species of Nicrophorus this is.
Letter 10 – Burying Beetle
Corpse Bug in New Mexico?
This guy was crawling over the boulders (gravel) in my garden yesterday. He went on his way after I took a couple of pictures. I only wish I’d had a better depth of field. He was (and still is, somewhere) about an inch long.
I think he is of the Silphidae. What do you say? (I just couldn’t resist adding the greeting on the last pic!) best to you,
This is indeed a Silphid or Burying Beetle. They are also known as Sexton Beetles. We aren’t sure what your exact species is.
Letter 11 – Burying Beetle
Hi I saw this beetle while taking a walk and thought id photograph it. It appears to have children on its back that it is guarding. I was just wonder what type of beetle it is and what its habits are?
This is a Burying Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. The creatures you perceived as children are mites. The mites are not parasitic on the beetle, but use it for transportation, a phenomenon known as phoresy.
The mites climb on the beetle to be carried to the next dead creature the beetle encounters. The Burying Beetles often work in pairs burying animals after finding small dead rodents or birds, or even reptiles.
Once the beetles have successfully buried the animal, eggs are laid and the carcass will provide food for the newly hatched larvae.
Letter 12 – Burying Beetle
I was wondering what sort of insect this is. It landed on our picnic table in Frankfort Indiana and had little red aphid-like insects crawling on its carapace and antenna.
The insect was having difficulty moving but did not seem to be fighting the aphids other than to get them off its antennae. Can you identify it? Thanks
This is a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. They bury small animals and lay eggs since rotting flesh is the larval food. The red crawlers you saw, but that your photograph does not show very well, are maggot-eating mites.
The Burying Beetle and the Mites have a symbiotic relationship. The Mites hitch a ride on the Burying Beetle to be transported to a new food source, since maggots also feed on rotting flesh. This ride hitching is known as Phoresy.
The Burying Beetle benefits since the mites eat fly eggs and maggots leaving more rotting flesh for the developing beetle larva. Nice tablecloth.
Letter 13 – Burying Beetle
Hi, glad to find your site. You can answer at my home address I’ve sent a
copy to. I found an insect in my bathroom on the floor, took it outside. Found an identical one a few days later, this time in the sink.
I did make a digital photo of it and was wondering if I may send it to you as an attachment. I believe this creature was about an inch long, looks like a beetle but the rear half of the body has no wings.
If it lands upside down it cannot right itself. Its base color is black, with bright accents on the rear half of the body. Let me know about the pic and I’ll send it right off to you. Its mouth parts are easy to see.
It was not touchy and had no problem with crawling right on to a piece of paper so I could take it outside.
You have found a Burying Beetle, Nicrophor
us species, which is an extremely interesting beetle. The adults are capable of burying the entire carcass of a small animal, like a mouse, which they dig under until the body falls into the hole.
It then is buried and becomes the food source of the larvae after the eggs have been deposited on the corpse. According to Borror, Triplehorn and Johnson in their book An Introduction to the Study of Insects,
“These beetles are remarkably strong. A pair may move an animal as large as a rat several feet to get it to a suitable spot for burying.” Adults and grubs both feed on carrion. Thank you for sending the images.
Thank you! That was very fast. Seems to be a very useful insect.
08/01/2005) We Stand Corrected
Nicrophorus pictureOn the first beetle page there is a picture dated 9/11/2003 of a Nicrophorus. You have identified it as Nicrophorus americana
a. N. americana has a reddish-orange pronotum (the upper part of the body between the head and the elytra. The specimen would also be small for americana if the coin in the upper left-hand corner is a nickle (americana would be about twice this size).
Brett Ratcliffe at the University of Nebraska might be able to tell you what species of Nicrophorus this is.
Letter 14 – Burying Beetle
Burying beetle found by lizard carcass
May 16, 2010
I found this guy a few days ago in the mountains of North Carolina, hovering around a lizard that had been slain by our resident cat. After looking through your archives I’m relatively sure he’s a burying beetle.
Thought you might be interested in seeing some action shots!
Thanks for maintaining such a fascinating and educational site
Black Mountain, North Carolina
Your photos are quite a wonderful documentation of a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. Many species look similar, but we believe this may be Nicrophorus carolinus based on photos posted to BugGuide.
Letter 15 – Burying Beetle
black bug with orange and blue spots
Location: Jewel Lake B.C.
August 6, 2010 10:39 am
I live in British Columbia and went for a hike to a mountain lake and found this bug on a leaf in a field of wildflowers. It is very colorful and the leaf didn’t have any marks of where it may have been eating.
This is a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. Adults work together to bury small dead animals. They then lay eggs on the rotting corpse and protect it as the larvae develop.
Letter 16 – Burying Beetle
Smelly Beetle ??
Location: Whitehorse, Yukon
August 25, 2011 4:53 pm
A co-worker of mine found this beetle in his boot. Never seen one like this before up here. He had a bad smell to him. I caught him in a cup and took him home, then release him on a Sunflower in the yard and took some pictures.
I hope my pictures are clear enough to help!
Maybe you can help identify him for me? 🙂
This is a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. A sexton, a somewhat obsolete profession, was a church custodian who cared for the church grounds, including the cemetery, and who was frequently charged with digging graves. Sexton Beetles bury small dead animals that the beetle larvae feed upon. Sometimes a pair of Burying Beetles will guard a small animal corpse after burying it, guarding it against other carrion feeders and caring for the young in the process. Perhaps the Burying Beetle your co-worker encountered had just finished burying a corpse. You can compare your individual to the species of Burying Beetles that are represented on BugGuide.
Thank you so much Daniel. Its nice to finally know what he is.
Letter 17 – Burying Beetle
Location: Central Iowa
April 29, 2012 7:24 pm
Hey! My son spotted this ”June-Bug” looking bug on our patio here in Central Iowa. I picked it up & it froze up & played dead. It left a pretty potent stench on my fingers…like manure. Can you help me out with the name? I called it ”April”.
Signature: Melissa & Blaedyn
Hi Melissa & Blaedyn,
You have discovered a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. With the exception of social insects that form an organized colony like Ants, Bees, Wasps and Termites, Burying Beetles exhibit among the greatest parental care in the insect world.
A pair of Burying Beetles will work together to locate and bury a small animal carcass, like that of a bird, mouse or other small vertebrate.
They then guard the carcass with the eggs and developing larvae and they even feed their brood regurgitated carrion. You may read more about Burying Beetles on BugGuide.
Letter 18 – Burying Beetle
Subject: Big huge bug!!
Location: Outside @ Walgreens
May 17, 2013 4:01 pm
I saw this big ol’ bug outside of Walgreens in Minnesota. I’ve never seen one before! It was huge! Probably a little more than an inch long, and moving pretty slowly.
I took a picture with my foot for size comparison but I didn’t want to get too close in case it decided to crawl on me…
This is a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus, but we cannot say for certain which species it is. Perhaps one of our readers can provide some suggestions. Sexton Beetles often work in pairs to bury small, dead animals.
Eggs are laid on the putrifying flesh and the adults help to guard the growing brood. More information on Sexton Beetles, as well as photos of many North American species, are posted on BugGuide.
We actually think this Sexton Beetle would look lovely crawling on your stylish footwear. Because we occasionally get images of insects that contribute to fashion statements, we created a Buggy Accessories tag that we hope our readers find amusing.
Though we would have to imagine this Sexton Beetle accessorizing your fashionable running shoes, it isn’t too difficult as our staff has such vivid imaginations, so we are taking the liberty of tagging your post as a Buggy Accessory.
Letter 19 – Burying Beetle
Subject: Burying Beetle SE Alaska
Location: Juneau, AK
September 3, 2013 4:19 pm
I took this photo on the trail on Mt Roberts in Juneau Alaska about 10 days ago. I think its a Burying Beetle, but I wasn’t sure which species. Anyway, thought I’d share it with you–its not the clearest photo but he’s very cute.
We get so few photos from Alaska. Thanks for submitting your photo of a Burying Beetle.
Letter 20 – Burying Beetle
Subject: Unidentified beetle in MN
Location: Central Minnesota
May 30, 2014 7:34 am
I found this beetle this morning crawling in my entry on cement floors. I live in central MN in the country primarily surrounded by pine forests.
I thought it was a burying beetle which is endangered and not usually found in MN, but it does not have an orange head. Thank you for your time!
You are correct that this is not an American Burying Beetle, but it is another species of Burying Beetle of the genus Nicrophorus.
Thank you for the information! I was able to further look it up and learned some very interesting things about what is living in my yard!
Letter 21 – Burying Beetle
Subject: Black and Orange Beetle
Location: South Central, PA
July 20, 2014 6:46 pm
I found this beetle in my orchard. He is about the size of a June bug. I have not seen a bug like this before and wonder if my orchard is in danger. I have not been able to find what he is. Even after searching through this site.
This is a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus, and its presence probably indicates that there is a small, dead animal carcass nearby.
Letter 22 – Burying Beetle
Subject: Burying beetle in Washington St.
Location: Olympic Peninsula Washington St
September 19, 2014 11:02 am
I found a burying beetle covered with mites. I put it in a jar, not knowing what it is. As far as I can tell, it is not harmful, but it is not native to the Olympic Peninsula.
I see it is endangered and the mites are beneficial to forest soils. I guess I will let it go, but I was hoping to touch base with someone else first. Any advice?
The American Burying Beetle is the endangered species that is not found in your area, however, other members of the genus are local species for you.
This may be a Margined Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus marginatus, which is described on BugGuide. We advise you to release it.
Letter 23 – Phoresy: Mites ride on Burying Beetle
Thanks for the hard work you put in to your wonderful site! My sweetie and I have been exploring a meadow in central mass -part of an audubon refuge- and have become quite fascinated with the monarch butterflies and their exploding population.
Over the past few months we’ve spent a lot of time there and we’ve been working on witnessing every stage of their amazing transformation.
I have a terrible attention span, however, and at one point I wandered away from the shiny chrysalis I’d been staring at and got surprised by this bug buzzing around in the tall grass.
I managed to snap a few pictures of it before it flew away, but I think this was one of the creepier bug-spectacles I’ve seen yet. Please tell us whether it’s a mom offering her offspring a ride or a swarm of parasitical mites!
Andrew, Arlington Mass.
This is neither. It is a beetle giving a ride to some Mites, a phenomenom known as Phoresy. We often get photos of Mites using Burying Beetles for transportation to a fresh carcass.
This looks more like a Flower Scarab Beetle, but we will see if Eric Eaton can provide further insight. Eric quickly wrote back:
“Had me fooled for a moment, too, but it IS a burying beetle, specifically Nicrophorus tomentosus, named for the yellow tomentum (fuzz) on its thorax. Eric”
Letter 24 – Burying Beetle with phoretic Mites
is this a burying beetle?
I saw this little guy while hiking near Wilmington, VT, but before i could get close enough for a better shot, he jumped up and flew away. i didn’t even notice the mites on his back until i got home and looked at the picture.
Is this a burying beetle? are they still endangered? thanks,
Yes, this is a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus, and the Phoretic Mites are just hitching a ride to a food source, often maggots that are feeding on the decaying carcass the Burying Beetle lays its eggs upon.
The mites eat the maggots and leave more food for the beetle larvae. The Burying Beetle and the Phoretic Mites have a symbiotic relationship.
We haven’t the time right now to give you an exact species on the Burying Beetle, but it is not the American Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus americanus, the endangered species.
The American Burying Beetle is a large beetle with orange markings on the pronotum of the thorax.
Letter 25 – Burying Beetle with Mites: Phoresy
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!
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.
Letter 26 – Burying Beetle with a Mouse!!!
Moving a mouse!
I “Stumbled Upon” your Web site and loved it. Nice job. And now, two days later I have a bug to identify. We delayed cleaning up a mouse carcass our cat left on the back porch this morning, and this evening we saw it MOVING!
Then we saw this bug crawling over the carcass, under it, all around it, and occasionally dragging it. I managed to get a video with my digital camera because I knew that tomorrow I wasn’t going to believe it.
One photo shows better detail, but is over-exposed. The color is more accurate on the second shot, which shows the mouse (well, it’s not a whole mouse; remember the cat had dibs) as well.
The last I looked, the bug and its lunch were over the side of the porch onto the ground, where it’s going to be harder to make headway. There are also a few harvestmen and a couple of other beetles vying for morsels, as well.
So what is this muscular little carrion eater?
What a treat, to see a Burying Beetle, genus Nicrophorus, in action. Often the beetles work in pairs to bury a small rodent or bird. Once buried, the female lays eggs and the carrion provides food for the larvae.
Your photos are an awesome addition to our site.
Letter 27 – Burying Beetle from England
What type of bug is this?
Photographed in my Garden in Dorset England UK. It spent the night in a wheel barrow full of water. We put it onto a log to dry off. I took the photo on a stone, I was about to take another as it opened its wings and flew away.
Any idea what it could be?
While our species are different from your species, I can assure you that this is a Burying Beetle, from the Family Silphidae, and probably the Genus Nicrophorus. These beetles are very strong and will bury a small mouse or bird after laying eggs on the future food source for the larvae.
Letter 28 – Burying or Carrion Beetles
Here is the picture of the beetles we need to ID…
Not sure is this is a male female pair as they look a little different.
Thank you…and a big thank you for the web site you sent we are enjoying it.
Jeffrey & Margaret
Dear Jeffrey and Margaret,
You have a species of Carrion or Burying Beetle, Family Silphidae. According to the Dillons, they are
“Usually large, loosely constructed beetles, that have the body black, sometimes ornamented with yellow or red. … Decaying animal matter, especially dead birds, mice, and snakes, is the usual habitat of these species, though some occur on decaying fungi.
The eggs are deposited in the bodies of small mammals or fragments of decaying flesh, which are then buried by the adults to a depth of from several inches to a foot. Two beetles working together can bury a mouse or other small animal very rapidly.”
Eric writes to us that: “The burying or carrion beetles are Necrodes surinamensis, male on left with the enlaged hind legs, female on the right.”
Letter 29 – Burying Beetles Bury a Snake
Burying beetles score a snake!
Thanks, again, you guys. I was stalking a zebra longwing when something big and slightly clumsy flew by and landed in the grass a few feet away.
Since it was maybe 2″ long and went busily to work on the ground, I went over to see what the commotion was all about. These two burying beetles were busy pulling the tail end of this snake into a hole they were digging in the ground.
Big chunks of the snake had been chewed away. (I don’t know what kind of snake this is; at less than 12″ long, it’s probably a youngster.) After ID-ing the beetle on your site, I thought you might like to see these.
Diane in Florida
Thanks for the wonderful images. We believe that this is Nicrophorus carolinus, based on a BugGuide posting.
Letter 30 – Sexton Beetle
My son found this bug in our front yard.
We live in central Illinois What is it? Thanks
This is one of the Sexton Beetles, the Tomentose Burying Beetles. Sexton Beetles often work in pairs to bury small dead animals like birds or mice. They lay eggs on the corpse and the rotting flesh provides food for the larvae.
We just posted an image of a group of Tomentose Burying Beetles on the carcass of a mouse.
Letter 31 – Sexton Beetles bury Mouse
My daughter nearly stepped on these while walking her dog through a recently mowed field. I have scrolled through your bug links until I am dizzy and cross-eyed. Can you tell me what they are?
They seemed to be feeding on a small dead rodent, possibly killed during the mowing. (Notice the hitch-hiker flies.) Thanks.
These are Sexton Beetles or Burying Beetles. They will bury the mouse and lay eggs on it. It just seems odd that there are so many at work as they generally work as a couple. We believe these are Tomentose Burying Beetles, Nicrophorus tomentosus.
Letter 32 – Sexton Beetle or Burying Beetle from England
English Beetle in Cumbria
Tue, May 26, 2009 at 12:49 AM
Hello Bug Expert,
We found this beetle on a fell top here in Cumbria (the English Lake District) on a summers day.
There were two of these in a small field vole corpse and when disturbed they made a peculiar hissing noise that seems to emanate from their wings?
They are quick burrowers and quite hard to photograph very well. Can you identify it please?
Great Stickle, Cumbria, English Lake District
This is a Sexton Beetle or Burying Beetle. It is probably in the genus Nicrophorus like similar beetles in North America. We haven’t the time right now to try to identify the exact species.
The pair were burying the vole corpse where they will lay their eggs. A pair of Burying Beetles can bury a small corpse in a very short period of time.
Letter 33 – Sexton Beetle
Black beetle with large orange spots
October 9, 2009
Found beetle wandering around the lawn near cedar trees on damp dreary day. Took pictures and when sun warmed the bug, he flew away. Pictures show bug held by pine needle and with one wing unfolding.
Size: 2 cm long
46° 12.496’N; 79° 29.539’W
This is a Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus, possibly Nicrophorus orbicollis. Sexton Beetles are sometimes called Burying Beetles.
Letter 34 – Sexton Beetle
Who is this death muncher?
October 24, 2009
I’ve seen these guys a couple of times, the first time I ever saw them was among other bugs voraciously consuming a mole corpse who’s death had been basking in the summer heat for at least two days.
They were the dominant insect in and on that corpse. His thorax reminds me Roman muscle armor… What is this odd little guy?
Eric, The Wild Man
willamette valley, along the columbia river. Oregon
This is one of the Burying Beetles in the genus Nicrophorus that are known as Sexton Beetles. We expect it is the highly variable Nicrophorus defodiens.
BugGuide has a nice array of images with some individuals possessing bold spotting, and others with subtle spotting like your specimen.
Burying Beetles often work in pairs, burying small dead creatures, laying eggs on the carcass.
Letter 35 – Sexton Beetle Larvae
larvae on dead mole
October 29, 2009
These larvae were found on a dead mole that had been under a wheelbarrow about a month (October 4-October 27, 2009 in rural Central Missouri).
I have a group of children who routinely explore the woods in this area and when we find a dead creature we place it under the wheelbarrow to watch the decay process. We have not encountered these worm-like creatures before.
Rural Central Missouri
Dear Millersburg Preschool,
Though we write about them often, this is the first photo we have ever received of the larvae of a Sexton Beetle, one of the Burying Beetles in the genus Nicrophorus.
We found a photo on BugGuide of the larvae of the endangered American Burying Beetle that is very close to your image.
We cannot say for certain exactly what species in the genus Nicrophorus your larvae will become, but we are somewhat certain they are not the rare American Burying Beetle.
A pair of Sexton Beetles will work burying the corpse of a small rodent or bird and then lay eggs. The adults often stay with the developing larvae and care for them.
Thank you for your quick response! The children will be so excited to know this!
Letter 36 – Sexton Beetle covered in Phoretic Mites
COVERED IN OTHER BUGS OR SPIDERS!!!!
November 18, 2009
Found this bug outside my house this summer(sept23) in Schreiber, ontario Canada. I also have a video i am willing to send ( you can see the small bugs/spiders moving around). Is this the bug’s babies or are they killing it?!?!
The beetle is a Sexton Beetle or Burying Beetles. The hitchhikers are Phoretic Mites. Amazingly, this is a mutually advantageous situation. Sexton Beetles bury small dead animals and lay eggs on the corpses and the beetle larvae feed on the putrefying meat.
Rotting flesh also attracts flies that lay eggs that hatch into maggots that compete with the beetle larvae for food. The Mites hitch a ride on the beetle since mites cannot fly, an act known as phoresy.
The mites eat the maggots, ensuring there will be more food for the beetle larvae. We have seen images of Sexton Beetles covered in so many Phoretic Mites that it seemed impossible that they could fly.
Letter 37 – Burying Beetle with Mites
Subject: Burying Beetle
Location: Inland Northwest
May 26, 2013 2:33 pm
We found this character in our backyard in a bird feed dish that was on the ground and had pools of water in it with some mushy plant material that had fallen in as well.
It was near a dead bloated worm and had all of these little guys crawling all over it. We weren’t sure if it was a parental or parasitic situation so I dumped the whole lot in a tuft of grass and put the dish up.
Later a friend told us that burying beetles often carry swarms of mites on their bodies to help keep them clean of microbes and fly eggs.
This is in fact a Burying Beetle and the information you received is correct. The Mites are phoretic and they do not harm the beetle. They use the beetle for transportation and it is believed that the mites feed on maggots and fly eggs that would compete with the larval beetles for precious food of rotting flesh on the small dead animals the adult Burying Beetles locate and bury for their offspring. We will be postdating this submission to go live next week during our absence from the office.
Letter 38 – Burying Beetle with Phoretic Mites
Subject: She’s carrying her babies on her back!
Location: Mt. Hood, OR
August 22, 2014 9:35 pm
This bug flew into my house tonight. I thought it was a bumble bee at first because it’s about the same size as one and it also has black and yellow markings, When I caught it to let it outside I noticed it was covered in little bugs.
I took pictures thinking you might want some. They may not have turned out very well though…
Is it some kind of beetle?
I figured out it’s a burying beetle and those are mites. Thank you for you’re time.
Sorry about the delay, but we have been playing tour guide to out of town visitors for the past two days. You are correct that this is a Burying Beetle covered in Phoretic Mites.
One rarity is the habit of some Giant Water Bugs to have the female cement the eggs to the back of the male Giant Water Bug to protect, but only until the eggs hatch.
Letter 39 – Burying Beetle from France
Location: South East France, Drome
November 9, 2014 2:52 am
We found this bug in our garden, in South of France, Valance. We looked at the insect books but were unable to identify it. It is too big to be a glischrochilus. It is two centimeters long.
The search out small dead animals like birds, mice or snakes, and then bury them after laying eggs. The developing larvae feed on the putrefying flesh.
Letter 40 – Sexton Beetle
Subject: Unknown beetle
Location: Baker Lake, WA
June 28, 2015 5:28 pm
Hello- I found this beetle on dung on the Baker Lake Trail that runs along the eastern edge of Baker Lake in Washington State. Is this a burying beetle?
Signature: AJ Knue
You are correct that this is a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus, and we believe based on both its appearance and range, that this Nicrophorus defodiens that is pictured on BugGuide is a likely species identification.
Letter 41 – Sexton Beetle from Canada
Subject: My dog stayed far away!
Location: Whitehorse Yukon Canada
August 10, 2015 10:58 am
Hi there bugman. What the heck is this bug? He came crawling onto the deck of our cabin at around midnight. My dog saw it and pounced but then quickly spit it out and started salivating all over the place.
She did not like the taste I guess…lucky for the beetle!
We are in Whitehorse, Yukon Canada. It was mild weather out and had just turned dark when this little trooper made his appearance.
Any info would be great. Thanks!
Signature: Almost Beetlejuice
Dear Almost Beetlejuice,
This is a Sexton Beetle or Burying Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. Their common name is derived from the manner in which they provide for their young.
Males and females work together to bury small dead animals, and then they stay close to guard their larvae while they feed on both the putrefying flesh.
According to BugGuide, they exhibit “Remarkable parental care: adults bury a small carcass, lay eggs in it, and stay to feed the young on regurgitated carrion.”
One possible species is Nicrophorus defodiens which according to BugGuide is found in the northern portions of the Pacific Northwest.
Update: August 21, 2015
While researching a different genus of Carrion Beetle, we found this statement on BugGuide: “Has chemical defenses, and smells foul, like all carrion beetles and their larvae.” That probably explains your dog’s reaction.
Letter 42 – Roundneck Sexton Beetle, we believe
Subject: Kezar Lake found bug
Location: New Hampshire
June 29, 2016 7:07 am
Found this bug late last night in our summer house, what is this bug? Is it a Burying Beatle?
Signature: Keazer lake found bug
We needed to double-check the spelling of Kezar Lake as you have submitted two different spellings.
You are correct that this is a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus, and we don’t always feel comfortable attempting a species identification.
We believe your individual is a Roundneck Sexton Beetle, Nicrophorus orbicollis, based on images and this description from BugGuide:
“The orange clubbed antennae along with the more circular posterior spots make this one fairly easy to ID (G.A. Hanley, 8/9/2008). Long elytral setae are characteristic, and usually diagnostic, for this species, but they are sometimes worn away.”
Letter 43 – Burying Beetle (with phoretic mites) from Scotland
Subject: Strange Red Wasp-like Bug
August 2, 2017 3:34 am
My mom found this bug flying and buzzing around our kitchen last night, it kept trying to run into our ceiling light, I thought it was some kind of wasp or hornet but I haven’t found anything resembling it on the internet.
It’s the first time either of us has seen a creature like this so maybe it’s some sort of migrating species? Any info is greatly appreciated, thanks!! 🙂
This is a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus, probably the Common Sexton Beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides, which is pictured on NatureSpot UK, and it is covered with Phoretic or hitch-hiking Mites.
According to NatureSpot UK: “These beetles perform an important service in getting rid of carrion (dead small animals and birds). Males and females cooperate to bury this matter, by digging beneath the bodies to provide a food supply for their larvae.”
A more poetic version is available on BugLife where it states: ” Love at first corpse! Males and females first meet at corpses of dead and decaying animals such as mice and small birds.
When love has struck males and females pair up and fight off any rival couples trying to take charge of the corpse. Once a pair has won the corpse they dig a hole beneath it and bury it, this is where they get their name from.”
Letter 44 – Sexton Beetle
Geographic location of the bug: California
Time: 03:00 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Could you identify this bug for me please
How you want your letter signed: Catie
This is a Sexton Beetle or Burying Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. Burying Beetles get their common name because adults will bury small animals including mice, birds and lizards after laying eggs upon the corpse.
According to BugGuide: “Remarkable parental care: adults bury a small carcass, lay eggs in it, and stay to feed the young on regurgitated carrion.”
Wow! Way cool beetle!!! Very interesting! I had never seen one before!
Thank you for answering.
Letter 45 – Sexton Beetle
Subject: Orange and Black beetle
Geographic location of the bug: Alameda Creek Trail, Union City, California
Time: 02:40 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi, Bugman.
Found this beetle clinging to a dried-out bush. Went to photograph the insect and it fell to the ground and laid on its back. With a small twig, I turned it over several times, but the beetle insisted to roll on its back and play dead. What is this bug?
How you want your letter signed: John
This is a Sexton Beetle or Burying Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus. Sexton Beetles locate small dead animals, including mice, voles, birds, lizards, and many others, and they bury them after laying eggs.
They sometimes guard the eggs and care for the young that feed on both the putrifying flesh and the other insects attracted to rotting flesh, including maggots.
Because of the red tips on the antennae and your location, our best species guess is the Yellow Bellied Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus guttala, which is pictured on BugGuide.
This is NOT the highly endangered American Burying Beetle which can be identified by its orange or red thorax. See BugGuide for additional information on the American Burying Beetle. Your individual is a member of the same genus, but it is not endangered.
Letter 46 – Sexton Beetle from UK
Geographic location of the bug: Wolverhampton England
Time: 08:34 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Saw this today in my garden, about 1 1/2 inches long, poor flyer.Thick short anennae, large plate at rear of head.
How you want your letter signed: S.J.Harris
Dear S.J. Harris,
This is a Sexton Beetle or Burying Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus, possibly Nicrophorus interruptus which is pictured on UK Beetles where it states: “Nicrophorus species are unusual among beetles as they display biparental care of the larvae. They feed and breed on carrion and some species will breed communally on carrion too large to bury.
Most species breed at small carcases of rodents and birds. Usually being attracted by the smell, a carcass will attract many individuals and the beetles will fight; males with males and females likewise, for the right to bury and breed on the food source.
If a single male arrives at carrion it will wait for a partner to arrive; they attract females by releasing a pheromone from the tip of the abdomen.
Females can bury a carcass and raise larvae alone from sperm stored from previous matings.
The pair digs a depression beneath the carcass by pushing soil forward with their heads, if the soil is too hard they will move the carcass a short distance to more suitable substrate.
Before burying the carcass they remove the fur or feathers and smear it with bactericide and fungicide to slow the decay and make it less attractive to other beetles and flies etc.
Before burial the carcass is rolled into a ball. The removed fur etc. is used to line and reinforce the burial chamber, and the complete process of burial may take eight hours.
Eggs are laid in the soil and the newly hatched larvae move onto the carcass. Adults feed on the carrion and regurgitate liquid food in response to begging behaviour from the larvae, this is thought to speed larval development and also to help preserve the food.
If there are too many larvae the adults will selectively cull them at an early age. Adults protect and provision the larvae throughout their lives, eliminating competition from dipteral larvae etc. Full grown larvae move into the soil to pupate.”
Letter 47 – Sexton Beetle with Phoretic Mites
Subject: Burying Beetle (?) COVERED with phoretic mites
Geographic location of the bug: Tonasket WA
Time: 11:10 AM EDT
Your letter to the Bugman: Poor thing couldn’t fly or retract it’s wings, but it was moving really fast and furious on the ground in the driveway.
Surprised my camera picked stuff up as good as it did. I put it next to my flower beds and it must have wanted cover, because it headed straight for the jungle. The belly was completely covered also.
How you want your letter signed: Cathy
Thanks so much for sending in your excellent image of a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle covered in Phoretic Mites. It is our understanding that the Phoretic Mites do not harm the Sexton Beetle, though it might have trouble flying.
The Phoretic Mites are opportunistic, and they use the Sexton Beetle to travel to new sites where they can find a food supply.
Letter 48 – Sexton Beetle
Subject: Beetle ID
Geographic location of the bug: Lake county, Ohio
Time: 09:03 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hello! My young explorer found this mystery beetle and we would love to know more about it. Thank you for your help!
How you want your letter signed: Natalie
“Reported to be a brood parasite of other Nicrophorus. Also reported to parasitize the eggs of Black Rat Snakes, Elaphe obsoleta (Blouin-Demers & Weatherhead 2000, Trumbo 2009).
The beetle larvae destroy the snake eggs, thus, the beetle would qualify as a parasitoid of the snake, a relationship usually seen only among invertebrates.
In the wild, N. pustulatus is not known to exhibit the usual carcass-burying behavior of other members of its genus, though it will display some of this behavior in captivity.
There is suspicion, too, that it may parasitize eggs of other reptiles, and, perhaps, birds (Trumbo 2009).”