Tomentose Burying Beetle: All You Need to Know

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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 carrion beetle family, it has evolved specialized sensory abilities that allow it to locate and bury small dead animals. 

This behavior not only aids in decomposition and nutrient cycling but also provides a safe breeding ground for its offspring. 

In this article, we will delve deep into the world of the Tomentose Burying Beetle, exploring its characteristics, habitat, lifecycle, and much more.

Tomentose Burying Beetle

Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Coleoptera
  • Family: Silphidae
  • Genus: Nicrophorus
  • Species: N. tomentosus

Physical Characteristics

The Tomentose Burying Beetle is a distinctive member of the beetle family, with several unique features that set it apart. Here’s a detailed look at its physical attributes:

  • Size: Ranges between 7⁄16″ to ¾″ (11.2 to 19.0 mm) in length.
  • Color: Predominantly black with two orange horizontal bands on the wing covers.
  • Antennae: Comprises 11 segments, with the second segment being very small. The antennae are clubbed at the tip and are entirely black, including the club. The club is covered with velvety hairs (setae).
  • Body: Somewhat flattened and entirely black. The abdomen protrudes beyond the wing covers.
  • Thorax: The plate covering the thorax (pronotum) is wider than the head, almost square, and entirely black. It is densely covered with long yellow setae.
  • Wing Covers (Elytra): Truncate in appearance, appearing cut off at the tip and exposing 2 or 3 body segments. The surface is smooth, without grooves or ridges.
  • Legs: Black in color. The fourth segment (tibia) on each hind leg is straight. The end part of each leg (tarsus) has 5 segments, with the last segment having two claws that are simple and of the same size.

Comparison with Other Beetles:

FeatureTomentose Burying BeetleTypical Beetles
Size7⁄16″ to ¾″Varies, generally smaller
ColorBlack with orange bandsVaries
Antennae11 segments, clubbedVaries, not always clubbed
Body ShapeFlattenedVaries, not always flattened
Thorax HairDense yellow setaeTypically less hairy
Wing CoversTruncate, with orange bandsVaries, often solid colored
LegsBlack, straight tibiaVaries in color and shape

Sensory Abilities

The Tomentose Burying Beetle possesses remarkable sensory capabilities that are crucial for its survival and reproductive success. 

One of its most notable features is its highly sensitive antennae, equipped with specialized olfactory organs

These antennae allow the beetle to detect the scent of decaying animals from considerable distances, sometimes up to 2 miles away. 

Tomentose Burying Beetle

This keen sense of smell is vital for the beetle to locate suitable carcasses, which it then buries to use as a breeding ground and food source for its larvae. 

Additionally, the beetle’s nocturnal nature suggests that it may also have adaptations for low-light vision, aiding in its nighttime scavenging activities. 

For those interested in related species with similar sensory abilities, the American Burying Beetle offers a fascinating comparison.

Overall, the sensory abilities of the Tomentose Burying Beetle are finely tuned to its ecological role, ensuring it can efficiently find and utilize resources in its environment.

Habitat and Distribution

The Tomentose Burying Beetle is a versatile insect found in a diverse range of habitats across North America. 

From dense forests to open grasslands and even shrubby areas, this beetle is adaptable and thrives in various environments.

Its range spans from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

In southern Canada and the northern United States, the beetle is especially prevalent.

Its presence in these areas indicates a preference for temperate climates, where it can best perform its role as a scavenger.

One constant in its habitat choice is the presence of fresh carcasses of small animals. 

These serve as both a food source and a breeding ground. The beetle’s entire lifecycle revolves around these carcasses, making them an essential component of its habitat.

Lifecycle of the Tomentose Burying Beetle

The Tomentose Burying Beetle goes through a complete metamorphosis with four lifecycle stages.

Reproduction and Mating 

  • After mating, the cycle begins anew, with females seeking optimal sites near carcasses to lay their eggs.

Egg Stage

  • Female beetles lay their eggs in the soil near a buried carcass. This proximity ensures that the emerging larvae have immediate access to a food source.

Larval Stage

  • Once hatched, the larvae are voracious eaters, feeding on the prepared carcass.
  • As they consume and grow, they undergo several molting stages, shedding their exoskeleton to accommodate their increasing size.

Pupation:

  • After the final larval stage, they enter pupation. During this phase, they remain stationary, undergoing a transformation within a protective casing.
  • It’s within this pupal case that the beetle undergoes its most significant metamorphosis, transitioning from a larva to an adult.
Tomentose Burying Beetle
Tomentose Burying Beetle

Adult Stage

  • Emerging from pupation, the adult beetles are now equipped with all the features and behaviors characteristic of their species.
  • They soon embark on the quest to find mates and suitable carcasses, ensuring the continuation of their lifecycle.

Parental Care

  • After burying a carcass and laying eggs, adult beetles remain to nurture their brood.
  • They feed the larvae with regurgitated food. This care ensures the young beetles have a consistent food source.

Protection Strategies

  • Adults aggressively defend the buried carcass from potential threats.By burying the carcass, they shield it from above-ground dangers. 
  • This strategy also maintains the carcass’s moisture, making it a suitable food source for the larvae.

Tomentose Burying Beetle Behavior

Nocturnal Nature

Tomentose Burying Beetles are predominantly nocturnal, a behavior that helps them evade daytime predators and take advantage of the cooler nighttime temperatures. 

Scavenging and Burying Behavior

Upon locating a fresh carcass, often with the help of their sensitive antennae, beetles will work together to bury it. 

They dig beneath the carcass, allowing it to settle into an underground chamber they’ve created. 

This burial not only safeguards their find from competing scavengers (most commonly, blow flies) but also sets the stage for breeding. 

The buried carcass becomes both a breeding site and a vital food source for their soon-to-emerge larvae.

Mutualistic Relationship with Mites

The Tomentose Burying Beetle partners with specific mite species in a mutualistic relationship. Mites hitch rides on beetles to reach fresh carcasses.

Once there, mites feed on fly eggs and larvae, reducing competition for beetle offspring. This relationship benefits both the mites and the beetles.

Tomentose Burying Beetle with Phoretic Mites

Is the Tomentose Burying Beetle Poisonous?

The Tomentose Burying Beetle, like many of its relatives, is not known to be poisonous to humans. 

While they play a vital role in the ecosystem by decomposing dead animals, they pose no direct threat to humans or pets. 

Importance of the Tomentose Burying Beetle in the Ecosystem

The Tomentose Burying Beetle plays a pivotal role in maintaining ecological balance.

As scavengers, these beetles are instrumental in the decomposition process. 

By burying and consuming dead animals, they expedite the breakdown of organic matter. 

This action returns essential nutrients to the soil, promoting plant growth and enriching the environment.

Tomentose Burying Beetle in the House

Discovering a Tomentose Burying Beetle inside your home can be surprising, but there’s no need for alarm.

First, ensure you’ve correctly identified the beetle. Its distinct black color with orange bands and its size can help confirm its identity.

Using a glass or jar, gently trap the beetle. Then, carefully slide a piece of paper or card beneath until the beetle steps onto it. 

Once secured, you can safely transport and release it outside.

Remember, the Tomentose Burying Beetle is not harmful to humans or pets. It’s an essential part of our ecosystem, and its presence indoors is typically accidental.

Tomentose Burying Beetle with Phoretic Mites

To prevent future encounters, check window screens for holes or gaps and ensure doors and windows seal properly. 

Beetles are often attracted to lights, so consider using yellow “bug lights” or dimming outdoor lights during peak beetle activity periods.

If you find multiple beetles or face recurrent invasions, it might be worth consulting with a pest control expert to identify potential attractants and implement long-term prevention strategies.

Conclusion

The Tomentose Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus, is a vital component of North American ecosystems, playing a crucial role in decomposition and nutrient cycling. 

Recognizable by its black color with orange bands, this beetle has a unique lifecycle revolving around burying and consuming carcasses. 

It shares a mutualistic relationship with mites, benefiting both species. We hope this article has helped you understand and appreciate this beetle’s importance to our ecosystem.

References

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Tomentose Burying Beetle

 

Subject: Can you identify this beetle? Location: East Windsor, CT September 18, 2016 1:17 pm Hello, A beetle flew in my drivers side window & struck me in the forehead. After safety pulling over I found between my seat a interesting bug I’d not seen before. It looks like a cross between a bumble bee & beetle. Orange and black back curtly Anita, about the size of a Quarter. I snapped some pictures, could you help me identify it? Signature: Michael Liebler
Tomentose Burying Beetle and Mite
Tomentose Burying Beetle and Phoretic Mite
Dear Michael, This is a Tomentose Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus, a species that can be distinguished from other Sexton Beetles in the same genus, according to BugGuide, by “dense yellow hair on pronotum distinctive,” a trait that adds to its resemblance to a Bumble Bee.  Burying Beetles or Sexton Beetles get their common name because they locate bodies of dead animals like mice, birds and even snakes which they bury after laying eggs on them.  According to BugGuide:  “Remarkable parental care: adults bury a small carcass, lay eggs in it, and stay to feed the young on regurgitated carrion.”  If you look closely at the image with the linoleum-like background, you can see a Phoretic Mite crawling on the pronotum.  Phoretic Mites have symbiotic relationships with Sexton Beetles, often covering them in great numbers for the sole purpose of hitching a ride to a prospective food source.  According to BugGuide:  “Phoretic mites are invariably present on Nicrophorus adults and may be involved in a symbiotic relationship with the beetles. These mites feed on any fly eggs that may be in the surrounding soil or on the carcass and which would otherwise hatch into maggots, competing (with Nicrophorus larvae) for the carrion (Springett 1968). In turn, the mites receive transportation to and from food sources that would otherwise be inaccessible to them, because carcasses are randomly distributed in place and time, and are a highly unpredictable resource. Four families of mites occur on the beetles: Parasitidae, Anoetidae, Uropodidae, and Macrochelidae. Poecilochirus mites (Parasitidae) form the largest and most active group of mites on the adult beetles….”
Tomentose Burying Beetle
Tomentose Burying Beetle

Letter 2 – Tomentose Burying Beetle with hitch-hiking Mites (Phoresy)

 

Photos of Burying Beetle with Mites Hey there, I’m from Nova Scotia and took a couple of photos of this burrying beetle back in late August on the Eastern Shore in Jeddore. I wasn’t sure what it was at the time (looked like an unusual bee to me) but did recognize that it seemed odd and worth photographing. I posted these photos on a local message board this evening asking if anyone happened to see this insect before and someone came back with a link to your site saying they thought it resembled the Burying Beetle. After a quick look myself, I concured. I was also told that apparently, they’re rare in this region. Thought you might appreciate the photos for your site. Sincerely, Elizabeth Gaudreau, Nova Scotia Hi Elizabeth, The beetle is a Tomentose Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus, and the Mites are hitching a ride to a new food source, a phenomenon known as Phoresy. The Mites feed on fly eggs and maggots, and as flies are competitors for carrion, having the mites feeding on the maggots is beneficial to the young Burying Beetles as it leaves more food for them.

Letter 3 – Tomentose Burying Beetle

 

American Burying Beetle
We found this beetle in our house the other evening, after looking at your site, could it be an American Burying Beetle. We live 45 miles west of Chicago Illinois. Thank you.
Jim Volkening



Hi Jim,
Is it a Burying Beetle? Yes. Was it found in America? Yes. Is it an American Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus americanus? No. Is it another beetle in the same genus? Yes. According to BugGuide: “Like other carrion beetles in genus Nicrophorus ,N. americanus has shiny black wing covers that are each marked with two bright orange/red bands, but it can be readily distinguished from the other nearctic species by the large and distinctive orange/red marking at the center of the pronotum.” Rather, we like this for the Tomentose Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus, because of what appears to be distinctive yellow fur on the pronotum. Burying Beetles are also known as Sexton Beetles.

Letter 4 – Tomentose Burying Beetle Melee

 

Subject: I wonder if you’ve seen some of these before… Location: Pointe-a-la-Garde, Quebec August 31, 2013 6:20 pm This evening, 8 of these bumblebee/beetle type insects invaded my house. My dog injured one of them and then three other of these insects attacked and killed the injured one. Signature: Thanks for taking a look! Alex.
Tomentose Burying Beetle
Tomentose Burying Beetle
Dear Alex, This is definitely a Burying Beetle or Sexton Beetle in the genus Nicrophorus, and we are relatively certain it is the Tomentose Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus based on photos posted to BugGuide.  Burying Beetles often bury small dead animals and the putrefying flesh acts as food for developing larvae.  Adults often work in pairs to bury small animals and they defend the young, a behavioral trait that is very rare in beetles.  We don’t understand why you had such a sighting, unless you have an earthen floor in the basement or there was a dead animal somewhere in your home that acted as a breeding ground for this group of beetles.  The feeding melee that resulted after one individual was injured was a very interesting observation.  They are probably very hungry and just want to get out of the house.
Burying Beetle Melee
Burying Beetle Melee
Thank you so much Daniel.  I have been digging out my 100+ year old foundation, and I have found some quite large burrying holes around the exterior of the house.  Although I do have many grass snakes that take care of my rodent (non-issues).  Plus there are bats, hawks owls and eagles here, so the odds of finding dead rodents are probable. Thanks for having your site! Alex.  

Letter 5 – Tomentose Burying Beetle with Phoretic Mites

 

Subject: Tomentose Burying Beetle With Mites Location: Toledo, OH August 23, 2014 2:03 pm Hello there! I’ve never been lucky enough to see one of these guys until today, and wanted to share! I’m pressure sure it’s a Tomentose Burying Beetle with Poecilochirus mites. Thanks! Signature: Katy
Tomentose Burying Beetle with Phoretic Mites
Tomentose Burying Beetle with Phoretic Mites
Dear Katy, Thank you for your excellent images.  The “hairy” thorax indicates that this Burying Beetle is a Tomentose Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus, and according to BugGuide:  “dense yellow hair on pronotum distinctive.”  We generally identify the mites as Phoretic Mites, meaning that they use the beetle for transportation purposes, so thank you for supplying a genus name.  According to BugGuide:  “Species in this genus inhabit vertebrate carrion and ride on silphid beetles. They don’t show host specificity, but mix up in larger carcasses where adult beetles come to feed. Those on Nicrophorus ride back on the adult and enter the brood cell and reproduce there. “
Tomentose Burying Beetle with Phoretic Mites
Tomentose Burying Beetle with Phoretic Mites

Letter 6 – Tomentose Burying Beetle

 

Subject: What’s this beetle? Location: Rocky Moutains (8,000 ft) September 22, 2016 11:41 am Moved a board this spring that was near a creek in Estes Park, CO and found this beetle underneath it. The soil was moist and it kept trying to crawl under debris around it. The picture is pretty good I think and I am curious as to what it is and if I should avoid them. Thanks! Signature: Ian Taylor
Tomentose Burying Beetle
Tomentose Burying Beetle
Dear Ian, We have determined that because of the “dense yellow hair on pronotum” which BugGuide refers to as  “distinctive,” your Sexton Beetle is a Tomentose Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus.  Though most Sexton Beetles work in pairs to bury small, dead animals like mice or birds after laying eggs upon the carcass, according to BugGuide:  “unlike other nearctic Nicrophorus, adults do not bury the carcass but make a shallow pit and cover the carcass with litter.”  If you look closely at the head of your beetle, you will see that it is carrying a Phoretic Mite.

Letter 7 – Tomentose Burying Beetle with Phoretic Mites

 

Subject:  Never seen this before in my life Geographic location of the bug:  Northern New Hampshire Date: 09/11/2017 Time: 04:42 PM EDT I came across this bug today in the house bouncing off the window. It looked like a bee but clearly wasn’t, it had fuzzy tipped antennae and fuzzy front feet with bumps on it’s back end and when I caught it to release it, it released a scent like feces….I’ve never seen anything like it in 27years. How you want your letter signed — Thank you for any info! -Kate
Tomentose Burying Beetle with Phoretic Mites
Dear Kate, This is a Tomentose Burying Beetle, and if you look really closely, you can see that there are Phoretic Mites crawling on its back.

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: American Burying Beetle

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • I trapped one of these bugs in a jar (with breathing holes!) in my house just today. It is not the first time as that was two years ago right around the same time of year. I did not seem to have one last year though. Two years ago I searched high and low to put a name to such a, sorry, but disgusting bug! Now thanks to you I have… which puts my mind at ease actually. My question is should I be concerned that one of these is in my home? Do they bite? How do I get rid of it? I have read that they are rare/endangered and this may seem to be stupid question but is there someone I should contact about it?
    Thanks so much for your time and YOUR love of bugs!
    Sincerely,
    Ashley
    Elkhorn, WI

    Reply
  • I have been using a fly trap that has a lure for the flies but I am catching the Sexton Beetles. In a small trap that uses the lure and water I can catch up to 5 inches of these beetles. We do have a lot of chipmunks and our property is near woods.

    Reply

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