Are Carrion Beetles Dangerous to Humans? Debunking Myths & Facts

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Carrion beetles are insects that play a vital role in nature. They are primarily known for their scavenging behavior, as they feed on decaying plants and animals.

With a wide variety of species found in various ecosystems, it’s natural to wonder if carrion beetles pose any threat to humans.

Are Carrion Beetles Dangerous to Humans

In general, carrion beetles are harmless to humans. They are essential in breaking down dead organic matter and recycling nutrients back into the environment.

They also help to control fly populations by competing with them for food and, in some cases, even consuming their larvae. This behavior ultimately benefits humans, as it reduces the number of disease-carrying flies.

Although these insects might come across as repulsive due to their diet and lifestyle, it’s important to remember their ecological significance.

There’s no need to fear carrion beetles; instead, we should appreciate the critical role they play in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

Are Carrion Beetles Dangerous to Humans?

Carrion Beetle Bites

Carrion beetles, as members of the Silphidae family, primarily feed on decaying plants and animals. Their main focus is not humans, so the likelihood of being bitten by a carrion beetle is quite low.

However, if you happen to be handling one, bites could be a possibility, but it’s important to remember that their bites are not venomous and generally cause mild discomfort, if any.

Ridged Carrion Beetles and Margined Carrion Beetles eat Dead Mole

Potential Health Issues

There are no major health issues related to carrion beetles as they do not transmit diseases like other insects, such as mosquitoes.

It’s worth noting that while carrion beetles are not directly harmful to humans, these beetles play an important role in breaking down decaying organic matter, ultimately contributing to the ecosystem’s health.

Features of Carrion Beetles:

  • Primarily feed on decaying matter
  • Rarely bite humans
  • Not venomous
  • Do not transmit diseases


Therefore, carrion beetles are not dangerous to humans, as they rarely bite and do not transmit diseases.

Carrion Beetle Identification and Habitat

Physical Characteristics

Carrion beetles belong to the family Silphidae, and they can be easily identified by their distinctive features:

  • Color: Usually black with markings of red, orange, or yellow
  • Antennae: Club-shaped with varying numbers of segments
  • Elytra: Shell-like forewings, wider near the abdomen tip and narrower toward the front

Genera within the Silphidae family include Nicrophorus, Necrophila, and Necrodes. A well-known example is the American Carrion Beetle (Necrophila americana), which is about ½ to ¾ inch in length and has a yellow pronotum with a big black spot in the middle1.

Habitat and Range

Carrion beetles are found in a variety of habitats, as they primarily feed on decaying plants and animals. Some examples of habitat types include:

  • Forests: Deadwood, leaf litter, and old logs
  • Grasslands: Rotting vegetation and animal carcasses
  • Urban areas: Near compost bins, since they can also feed on fungi and rotten fruit2

These beetles can be found across North America, Europe, and Asia, with a wide range of environmental conditions. They are essential for the ecosystem as decomposers, assisting in breaking down organic matter in their respective habitats.

Carrion Beetle Diet and Decomposition

Role in Decomposition

Carrion beetles play a significant role in the decomposition process of dead animals and plants. They help break down organic matter and recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem.

Therefore, carrion beetles contribute to the ecosystem in the following ways:

  • Assisting in the breakdown of dead animals by consuming carcasses
  • Reducing the presence of carrion, which can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and disease
Carrion Beetles freed from Geodetic Marker

Feeding and Diet Preferences

Carrion beetles have diverse feeding preferences, depending on their species and stage of development.

The American Carrion Beetle, for instance, feeds primarily on decaying plants and animals, both in its adult and larval stages. They may also consume fungi or rotten fruit, making them valuable allies for compost bins.

In general, carrion beetles favor the following foods:

  • Decaying plant matter
  • Dead animals (carrion)
  • Rotting fruit
  • Dung
  • Insects, worms, and mites

Here is a comparison table between two common carrion beetle species and their dietary preferences:

SpeciesDiet in Adult StageDiet in Larval Stage
American Carrion BeetleDecaying plants and animals, rotten fruit, fungiDecaying plants and animals
Burying BeetleCarrion, small insects, fly larvaeCarrion, fly larvae

Carrion Beetle Life Cycle and Reproduction

Carrion beetles have unique breeding behaviors. Adults locate suitable decaying materials, like dead animals or plant matter, to lay their eggs. This provides a food source for their offspring.

Some species exhibit parental care, such as the burying beetles, which bury carcasses and guard them from other scavengers.

  • Egg-laying: Adults lay eggs on or near decaying material.
  • Parental care: Some bury carcasses to protect them from scavengers.

Development of Larvae

After hatching, carrion beetle larvae feed on the decaying material where they were laid. They undergo complete metamorphosis, with four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

The larval stage is typically teardrop-shaped and black, like in the American carrion beetle. This stage may last a few weeks to months.

The larvae then transition into the pupal stage, which lasts another 7 to 10 days. As they become adults, the beetles emerge from their pupae and begin the breeding cycle anew.

Carrion Beetle Life Cycle

StageDurationCharacteristics
Egg7-10 daysLaid on/near decaying material
LarvaWeeks-monthsTeardrop-shaped, black
Pupa7-10 daysTransformation into adult
AdultVariesReproduction and egg-laying
  • Larvae: Feed on decaying material, teardrop-shaped and black.
  • Pupa: Transformation stage between larvae and adults.
  • Adult: Breeding and egg-laying stage.

Therefore, carrion beetles play essential roles in breaking down decaying matter, and their life cycle is an interesting process.

Despite their unappealing food sources, they are not dangerous directly to humans, as their primary purpose is recycling nutrients within ecosystems.

Carrion Beetle Ecosystem Role and Interactions

Predators and Threats

Carrion beetles, belonging to the order Coleoptera, are subject to various predators like birds, small mammals, and other insects.

Some notable examples include:

  • Ants: Attack and feed on beetle larvae
  • Flies: Compete for the same carrion resources
  • Birds and small mammals: Prey on adult beetles

Another threat to their population is habitat loss due to human activities, affecting overall ecosystem functioning.

Carrion Beetle Benefits

Carrion beetles play a vital role in maintaining biodiversity and contributing to nutrient cycling within ecosystems. Some of their main benefits are:

  • Decomposition: Breaking down carrion, which contributes to nutrient cycling and acts as a natural carbon sink
  • Pest control: Feeding on other insect larvae that infest decomposing remains
  • Antimicrobial substances: Producing compounds that inhibit growth of potentially harmful bacteria

Therefore, carrion beetles are crucial in ensuring the functioning of a healthy ecosystem. Their presence benefits both the environment and species within it.

While they might seem unsettling, they pose no direct danger to humans and should be appreciated for their ecological contributions.

Carrion Beetle Control Methods

Carrion beetles are primarily scavengers that feed on decaying plants and animals. They are not typically dangerous to humans, but their presence can be an indication of a problem with waste management or decomposition within an area.

For instance, carrion beetles may be attracted to compost bins with an excess of decaying fruits or vegetables.

To minimize human interference with carrion beetle populations, consider the following points:

  • Properly manage compost & waste
  • Maintain garden & yard hygiene
  • Use natural barriers like fences or plants

Natural Controls

In nature, carrion beetles are controlled by various creatures, including:

  • Mites: Phoretic mites attach to beetles and feed on their eggs
  • Parasites: They may attack beetle larvae & weaken populations
  • Ants & Wasps: These insects are competitors of carrion beetles for food resources
  • Millipedes & Centipedes: Natural predators of carrion beetles
  • Soil & Moisture: Soil conditions and moisture levels can impact beetle survival & reproduction

Natural Ways to Control Carrion Beetles

ControlProCon
MitesReduce beetle populationMay harm other insects
ParasitesLower beetle larvae survivalAbsent from some areas
Ants & WaspsCompete for food sourcesThey can sting humans
Mill/CentipedesPredators of beetlesCan be invasive species
Soil & MoistureRegulates reproductionUnsuitable for beetle

Using natural controls, like introducing predators or altering soil conditions, can minimize carrion beetle populations without posing a direct risk to humans or other beneficial organisms.

Carrion Beetle Conservation

Endangered Species

One of the well-known carrion beetles, the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) is considered endangered.

This beetle plays a crucial role in recycling nutrients by consuming decaying matter. They have distinctive jointed legs that assist them in burying carcasses as part of their reproductive process.

Conservation Efforts

Due to their ecological importance, there are ongoing efforts to protect and conserve the American burying beetle. These efforts include:

  • Habitat preservation
  • Monitoring populations
  • Raising awareness about their ecological role

For instance, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works to preserve the beetle’s habitat and mitigate potential threats to their survival.

Conclusion

While carrion beetles may occasionally bite, they are generally harmless. They are not dangerous to humans and these insects contribute significantly to ecosystem by helping in the decomposition process.

Thus, carrion beetles go a long way in reducing disease-carrying fly populations, and promoting nutrient recycling.


Footnotes

  1. American Carrion Beetle
  2. American Carrion Beetle – Home and Garden IPM from Cooperative

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about carrion beetles. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – American Carrion Beetle

Subject: Yellow/Black Bug
Location: Central Virginia
July 5, 2016 4:54 pm
What’s this bug?
Signature: Rebecca

American Carrion Beetle
American Carrion Beetle

Dear Rebecca,
This is one of the most beautiful images we have ever received of an American Carrion Beetle,
Necrophila americana, a species that lays its eggs on the putrefying flesh of dead creatures.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults consume fly larvae (maggots) at carrion, as well as some carrion; larvae eat carrion, maggots, and beetle larvae, may prefer dried skin, bits of flesh after maggots have departed.”

Letter 2 – American Carrion Beetle

Subject: Dime-sized beetle
Location: Bridgewater, MA, USA
August 4, 2014 9:44 am
I spotted a dime-size flat beetle in my backyard here in eastern Massachusetts. He has a dull-yellow head with a prominent black spot; otherwise he is all black. When I captured him he immediately played dead for about a minute–very convincing. Any ideas what he is–I have only seen just this one.
Signature: Jim Slavin

American Carrion Beetle
American Carrion Beetle

Hi Jim,
We posted an image of an American Carrion Beetle and information earlier today.

Letter 3 – American Carrion Beetle

black beetle with white shoulders
Today, I noticed an oddity while mowing the grass. There was an orange stink horn growing under a tree. It is a fungus that emits a smelly gooey substance and attracts flies and other insects to carry its spores off to another location. Its odor is like something dead.

Along with a fly and another beetle, it also had attracted 2 large black beetles. They are flat black not shiny. They are shaped like a dung beetle, but the shoulders (middle section) are bright white with a little design. Notice that the beetle is almost as wide as it it long.

Could it be a type of scarab beetle? Its head is also black and it was certainly attracted to the odor of this stink horn. Could you tell me what it is? Thanks!
Dorothy

hi Dorothy,
The beetles in question are American Carrion Beetles, Necrophila americana. You can read more about them on BugGuide. The other beetle also looks like a Carrion Beetle, but in the genus Heterosilpha.

Letter 4 – #9998: Carrion Beetle

neet black beetle
May 13, 2010
This handsome guy was hiding under some matted grass in my back yard. He is about the size of a finger nail and can move quickly when he wants too. When he got tired of shying away from my camera he curled into a defensive posture, image included.
My question is what kind of beetle is this and what can you tell me about him. Thank you for your site and your time.
Beau bugs
north Idaho U.S.A.

Unknown Carrion Beetle

Dear Beau bugs,
WE believe, but we are not certain, that this is a Carrion Beetle in the Family Silphidae.  We cannot find a match on BugGuide, so we have decided to contact Eric Eaton directly.  We really love the insect behavior photo you have provided.  That is one limber beetle.

Eric Eaton confirms the Carrion Beetle identification
Hi, Daniel!  Hope you had a great trip to see mom for Mother’s Day 🙂
Yes, the carrion beetle is just that, and probably Heterosilpha ramosa given the Pacific Northwest location.  It is pretty common there.
Eric

Letter 5 – American Carrion Beetle

Subject: unusual beetle
Location: Western Harford County, MD, USA
September 29, 2015 1:13 pm
Hi!
We found this fella a few days ago on our deck at our home in Harford County, MD. Hadn’t seen one like it before- and haven’t been able to ID it!
Thanks!
Signature: Bob and Susan

American Carrion Beetle
American Carrion Beetle

Dear Bob and Susan,
As its name implies, this American Carrion Beetle feeds on rotting flesh, though it will also feed on certain smelly fungus.

Thank you SO MUCH Daniel!  Pretty interesting little fella!
Bob

Letter 6 – American Carrion Beetle

Subject: Bumblebee Mimic?
Location: Voorhees, NJ
July 22, 2016 7:40 pm
Found this bug flying around at dusk, and in flight it looked very much like a bumblebee.
It’s nearly an inch in length (brick for scale) and at rest looks like a beetle or shield bug.
My Google skills fail to turn anything up.
Found in Voorhees, NJ (near Wharton State Forest) on July 22nd, 2016 at about 7:40pm EST, above a bed of vinca/periwinkles. No flowering shrubs in the vicinity, but I did have a smelly non-toxic fly trap around the corner.
Signature: Itadaki Mouse

American Carrion Beetle
American Carrion Beetle

Dear Itakaki,
This is an American Carrion Beetle, and according to BugGuide:  “Adults consume fly larvae (maggots) at carrion, as well as some carrion; larvae eat carrion, maggots, and beetle larvae, may prefer dried skin, bits of flesh after maggots have departed” and the habitat is listed as “moist woods on carrion, fungus, sapping tree wounds(2); prefer larger carrion, ‘rat-sized or larger.'”

  We have images in our archive of American Carrion Beetles on carrion and American Carrion Beetles on decaying fungus.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Carrion Beetle

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