Tomentose Burying Beetle: All You Need to Know

The Tomentose Burying Beetle, scientifically known as Nicrophorus tomentosus, is a fascinating creature that plays a vital role in our ecosystem.  Often mistaken for a bumblebee during flight due to its size and coloration, this beetle stands out not just for its physical appearance but also for its unique behaviors.  As a member of the … Read more

Are Burying Beetles Poisonous? Debunking the Myths

Find out how to manage a beetle bug infestation. Burying beetles, also known as common sexton beetles, are large insects with shiny black bodies and bright orange or red markings on their elytra (hardened forewings). They have clubbed antennae helpful in detecting food, and are known for their impressive ability to locate, bury, and feed … Read more

American Burying Beetle: Quick Facts for Curious Minds

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:

Beetle SpeciesLength (in)Color
American Burying Beetle1.0 – 1.8Black & Red
Eastern Hercules Beetle1.2 – 2.7Greenish grey or yellowish
June Beetle0.5 – 1.0Reddish Brown

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:

  1. Locate a small dead animal using its strong sense of smell
  2. Bury the carcass underground to protect it from other beetles or predators
  3. Lay eggs on the carcass
  4. 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

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.

Larvae

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.

StageDuration
Egg3-7 days
Larvae7-14 days
Pupal7-10 days

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.

Conservation MeasuresProsCons
Habitat protectionPreserves natural environmentsLimited resources for large-scale efforts
Captive breeding programsBoosts population numbersPossible loss of genetic diversity
Reducing pesticide exposurePromotes healthier ecosystemsChallenges 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
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is burying_beetles_mouse_canada_l-300x206.jpg
American Burying Beetles Eating a Mouse

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.

Geographic Spread

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.

Canadian Presence

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.

Conclusion

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.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.fws.gov/species/american-burying-beetle-nicrophorus-americanus

  2. https://www.epa.gov/endangered-species/endangered-species-save-our-species-information-american-burying-beetle 2

  3. https://www.fws.gov/media/best-management-practices-american-burying-beetle

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.


Thanks
Enumclaw, Washington

Sexton Beetle with Phoretic Mites
Sexton Beetle with Phoretic Mites

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
Daniel:
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:
http://collections2.eeb.uconn.edu/nicroweb/hatchabs/index.htm
I know I have seen very similar specimens from northwest Oregon, too.
Eric

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?
Signature: -L

Burying Beetles eat mouse

Hi L,
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

Greetings,
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?
Thanks,
C. Peniuta

Burying Beetle
Burying Beetle

Hi C,
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.


Janet Sugino
Brinnon WA (Olympic Penninsula area)

Wow Janet,
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.
PW

Hi PW,
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

alaskan beetle
Hi,
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.
steven

Hi Steven, The photo shows a captive Burying Beetle most probably Nicrophorus sayi.

Letter 8 – Burying Beetle

another bug
Hi guys…
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,
Sherrie Gerber

Hi Sherrie,
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.
Charles Wright
Frankfort, KY

Letter 10 – Burying Beetle

Corpse Bug in New Mexico?
Hello WTB,
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,
Sarah

Hi Sarah,
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

BeetleBug?!
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?
Stefan

Hi Stefan,
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

hi
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
Megan

Hi Megan,
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.
Charles Wright
Frankfort, KY

Letter 14 – Burying Beetle

Burying beetle found by lizard carcass
May 16, 2010
Hi Bugman,
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
Dakota
Black Mountain, North Carolina

Burying Beetle

Hi Dakota,
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.

Read more