What Do Carrion Beetles Eat: Unveiling Nature’s Little Recyclers

Carrion beetles are fascinating creatures with a unique diet. They belong to the family Silphidae and play a vital role in the ecosystem. These beetles are known to consume decaying organisms, breaking down the dead matter and recycling nutrients back into the environment.

As a curious observer, you might wonder what these beetles specifically eat. Carrion beetles primarily feast on dead animals and plants. They have a particular preference for decomposing flesh, which is where their name originates. However, they don’t limit their diet to carrion alone. In certain situations, they also consume fungi or rotten fruit. This helps them thrive in a variety of habitats, including near compost bins.

These beetles perform an essential function in nature by keeping the environment clean and maintaining a balance within the ecosystem. They control the spread of harmful bacteria and parasites by consuming decaying matter. So, the next time you encounter a carrion beetle, remember their important role and don’t be too quick to judge them based on their meal choices.

Carrion Beetles Overview

Family and Size

Carrion beetles belong to the family Silphidae within the order Coleoptera. These insects are arthropods, and they come in various sizes. Some typical examples of the carrion beetles are the Nicrophorus, which can range between 1 to 3 centimeters in size.

Habitat and Distribution

These beetles inhabit a wide range of environments. You can find them in North America and numerous other regions worldwide. They adapt well to different habitats such as forests, grasslands, and even urban areas with plant debris and dead animals.

Physical Characteristics

Carrion beetles exhibit some unique physical features that set them apart from other insects. Their elytra (the hardened wings) cover and protect their bodies. These beetles also have antennae with distinct shapes, increasing their sensory capabilities. Some common characteristics of carrion beetles include:

  • Elytra covering the body
  • Unique antennae shapes
  • Variable colors and markings

Carrion Beetle Behavior

Carrion beetles display various behaviors, especially when it comes to breeding. They feed on decomposing animal carcasses and help recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem. While consuming carcasses, they also lay their eggs, providing their larvae with a suitable food source when they hatch. Some notable behaviors include:

  • Feeding on decomposing carcasses
  • Laying eggs near the food source for larvae
  • Active during both day and night

In conclusion, carrion beetles are a fascinating group of insects with unique characteristics and behaviors. They play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance by recycling nutrients through their feeding habits and provide an essential link within food chains.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Main Sources of Food

Carrion beetles primarily feed on decaying matter, including dead organisms, carrion, rotting fruit, and dung. A commonly known example is the American Carrion Beetle, which consumes both the primary food source (such as an animal carcass or rotten fruit) and other insect larvae it may encounter.

Some carrion beetles have developed specific feeding habits, such as those that focus on:

  • Vertebrate carcasses
  • Rotting fruits and vegetables
  • Decomposing organic matter found in dung

These beetles play a crucial role in breaking down and recycling nutrients in ecosystems.

Decay Process and Eating Habits

Carrion beetles are attracted to the later stages of decay and decomposition. As the decomposition process advances, they help break down the remaining organic materials like flesh, skin, and sinew.

One interesting aspect of their eating habits is their ability to digest keratin, a tough protein found in hair, feathers, and nails of dead animals. By doing so, they aid in cleaning up the environment and preventing the spread of diseases.

Carrion beetles have evolved various strategies to find and consume their food sources:

  • Finding carcasses by smell: Just like the American Carrion Beetle, these insects use their acute sense of smell to locate decaying organic matter.
  • Symbiotic relationships: Carrion beetles can form partnerships with mites, where the mites help beetles by eating the eggs and maggots of competing flies. This relationship benefits both the beetle and the mites, allowing the beetle larvae to access more food.

Remember that these beetles are essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. By feeding on decomposing organisms, carrion beetles help recycle nutrients back into the Earth and keep the environment clean.

Predators and Threats

Carrion beetles face a variety of predators and threats in their environment. Among their predators are birds, mammals, and even other insects. Small mammals like shrews and rodents often try to eat the beetle larvae. Additionally, some larger predatory insects, such as ground beetles, prey on carrion beetles.

As carrion beetles feed primarily on dead animals, they face competition from other scavengers. For example, maggots, ants, and larger vertebrates like raccoons also consume carrion. This competition can potentially lead to limited food resources for the carrion beetles, impacting their survival.

In terms of pests, carrion beetles themselves help control certain pest populations. They eat maggots and other decomposer insects, maintaining a balance in the ecosystem. However, this beneficial role could be threatened by changes in climate. As temperatures rise and weather patterns shift, the availability of carrion might change, further affecting the beetles’ survival.

To summarize, some factors that impact carrion beetles are:

  • Predators like birds, mammals, and other insects
  • Competition for carrion from other scavengers
  • Their role in controlling pest populations
  • The impact of climate change on carrion availability

In order to adapt and survive, carrion beetles need to navigate their environment while facing these challenges. By understanding their predators and threats, we can appreciate the important role they play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Carrion Beetles Life Cycle

Reproduction and Offspring

Carrion beetles, such as American Carrion Beetles, play an essential role in nature by consuming dead animals and plants. Their life cycle begins when a male and female beetle encounter a suitable food source for their offspring, often within a few hours after the time of death of an animal. The beetles mate, and then the female lays her eggs nearby. One interesting example is the American Burying Beetle, which buries the carcass for their offspring to feed on.


Soon you’ll notice beetle larvae hatching from the eggs. The hatchlings make their way to the food source and start feeding on the decaying matter, like the carcass in the case of sexton beetles. Carrion beetle larvae are specifically adapted to breaking down dead plant or animal matter.

Stages of Life

Once the larvae have consumed enough food, they enter the next stage in their life cycle: pupation. For this, they usually move away from the carcass and burrow into the soil. During the pupation, larvae transform into adult beetles, and the process can last from a couple of weeks to a few months, depending on the species and environmental conditions. After pupation, adult beetles emerge from the ground, ready to start the cycle again by finding a new food source and a mate.

To sum it up, here’s a brief comparison of the stages in the life of carrion beetles:

  • Egg: Laid by the female near the food source
  • Larva: Hatches from the egg, feeds on decaying matter
  • Pupa: Transforms into an adult beetle underground
  • Adult: Emerges and starts the cycle again by finding a new food source and mate

Overall, carrion beetles play a vital role in breaking down dead organisms in the ecosystem. Understanding their life cycle helps you appreciate these industrious insects and their importance in maintaining a balanced environment.

Carrion Beetles and Ecosystem

Carrion beetles play a crucial role in our ecosystem. They are nature’s recyclers, feeding on dead animals and plants. This helps break down organic matter, returning nutrients to the soil. In this process, they provide significant ecological services and contribute to conservation efforts.

For instance, the American Carrion Beetle is one example. It feeds on decaying organisms in both its adult and larval stages. In addition, it’s known to eat fungi and rotten fruits. You might find them near compost bins, where they thrive on the abundance of decomposing material.

These beetles can aid in controlling fly populations. While feeding on carrion, they consume the maggots, which helps to keep the ecosystem balanced. As part of their ecological service, they prevent these maggots from infesting other areas and spreading diseases.

In terms of conservation, carrion beetles are mutually dependent on other species. Some carrion and burying beetles coexist with mites that help them locate carcasses. The mites hitch a ride on the beetles, and in return, they help to keep the carcass clean by feeding on fly eggs and tiny larvae.

Here are some characteristics of carrion beetles:

  • Flattened body shape
  • Usually black, with red, orange, or yellow markings
  • Distinctive elytra shape, wider toward the end of the body, and narrower toward the front
  • Antennae with a unique clubbed shape

In summary, carrion beetles are important components of the ecosystem. They help with decomposition, provide ecological services, and contribute to the well-being of other plant and animal species. By understanding their role, you can appreciate their impact and the interconnectedness of our environment.

Carrion Beetles Types

Burying Beetles and Clown Beetles

Burying beetles, also known as Nicrophorus, belong to the family Silphidae. They mainly feed on:

  • Small carcasses
  • Fly larvae

Clown beetles are part of the family Histeridae, commonly known as the hister beetle. They are scavengers that feed on:

  • Decaying organic matter
  • Insect larvae

Bone Beetles and Hide Beetles

Bone beetles belong to the family Cleridae, also known as checkered beetles. The species in the Thaneroclerinae subfamily specifically feed on:

  • Dead insects
  • Dry bones

Hide beetles are in the family Trogidae, such as Trogloderus. Their diet consists of:

  • Dried animal skin
  • Feathers

Ham Beetles and Dung Beetles

Ham beetles, scientifically named Necrobia rufipes, are also known as red-legged ham beetles. They prefer to feed on:

  • Stored meats
  • Animal products

Dung beetles belong to the family Geotrupidae, like the earth-boring dung beetles. Their primary food source is:

  • Feces of herbivores

Rove Beetles and Sap Beetles

Rove beetles, from the family Staphylinidae, can be predaceous and are known to eat:

  • Small invertebrates
  • Other insects

Sap beetles are part of the family Nitidulidae. They are small, around 10 mm in length, and consume:

  • Plant sap
  • Fruits

Comparison Table

Beetle Type Family Diet
Burying Beetle Silphidae Small carcasses, fly larvae
Clown Beetle Histeridae Organic matter, insect larvae
Bone Beetle Cleridae Dead insects, dry bones
Hide Beetle Trogidae Dried animal skin, feathers
Ham Beetle Dermestidae Stored meats, animal products
Dung Beetle Geotrupidae Herbivore feces
Rove Beetle Staphylinidae Small invertebrates, insects
Sap Beetle Nitidulidae Plant sap, fruits

Carrion Beetles and Forensic Science

Carrion beetles play a crucial role in forensic science. They are attracted to decomposing carcasses, making them valuable in determining the time of death. For instance:

  • Carrion beetles can provide insight into the postmortem interval (PMI).

These beetles are often found alongside other insects like blow flies, which also colonize decomposing bodies. By examining the beetles’ life stages and the decomposition process, forensic scientists can make estimations about a corpse’s timeline.

Certain factors impact the beetles’ arrival on the scene:

  • Temperature and humidity
  • Geographic location
  • Accessibility of the corpse

Comparing Carrion Beetles and Blow Flies in Forensic Science:

Aspect Carrion Beetles Blow Flies
Time of Arrival Usually arrive later than blow flies First and most common insect on corpse
Species Variety Less variety in species; easier to identify Multiple species
Life Stages Useful for determining PMI Also useful for determining PMI
Environmental factors Affected by temperature, humidity, and geographic location Similar environmental factors affecting arrival and development

In Minnesota, carrion beetles can be commonly found during forensic investigations. Knowing the local species found in this region helps experts gather more accurate information.

In conclusion, understanding the habits and characteristics of carrion beetles is invaluable for forensic investigations. Emphasizing their similarities and differences with blow flies provides a fuller picture of the decomposition process, ultimately aiding in solving cases.

Beetles in Home

Potential Pests

Carrion beetles mainly feed on decaying plants and animals, but sometimes they can find their way into your homes. You might find them in your compost bins, where they feed on fungi or rotten fruit. However, they can become pests if they accidentally invade your pantry, where they feed on grains and other dry food products.

Some examples of the pests you may encounter include pantry pests like American Carrion Beetles and wood-boring beetles like Old House Borers.

Mite Relationships

Carrion beetles and mites can have a symbiotic relationship. Mites will hitch a ride on these beetles and gain access to new sources of food. In turn, mites help carrion beetles by eating fly eggs that compete for the same food source. This relationship can help control the population of other pests like flies, but if mites and beetles are in large numbers, they may become a nuisance in your home.

Skin Beetles Relationships

Skin beetles, or dermestids, are another group of beetles that can be found inhabiting homes. They feed on a variety of materials, like:

  • Feathers
  • Animal skins
  • Dead insects
  • Woolen products

Dermestids are often used in museums and taxidermy shops for cleaning animal skeletons, as they are efficient in removing flesh. However, they can become troublesome when they eat valuable stuffed animals, natural history specimens, or woolen clothing. While carrion beetles and skin beetles might inhabit similar areas and eat similar food sources, they do not have a direct symbiotic relationship.

To sum it up, carrion beetles have their merits, but they can become pests in certain situations. Managing them effectively involves keeping an eye on your compost pile, properly sealing dry food products, and promptly addressing any infestations.

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 – American Carrion Beetle


horrible tomato bugs
Hi, I love your website. Now it’s my turn to ask for help… Attached is a picture of the Horrible Tomato Bug of 2005. I am finding three, four, or five of these buggers having a feeding frenzy – they eat through the bottom and hollow out the biggest, ripest tomatoes.
They don’t seem to climb much, and prefer the tomatoes that touch the ground. There aren’t many of them, luckily. Not yet anyway! They scuttle away very quickly and deftly when disturbed. I got this picture of a small one, luckily. These bugs are broad and sturdy, and relatively flat. If it were possible to get one of these bugs to stand still on a coin, it would nearly conceal a nickel. Up to 2cm in size (.75 inch) I’ve seen a couple that were even bigger. I’d love to know what these beasts are. (And how to prevent them from settling into the garden!) I’ve browsed around on the net to no avail. My parents have never seen these things in 30 years of gardening. Thanks in advance, and happy bughunting!

Hi Debbie,
We do not think of American Carrion Beetles, Silpha americana, as garden pests, but as beneficial insects. They are attracted to dead animals and lay their eggs there. They eat the rotting meat as well as fly larvae. It is a mystery why they are being attracted to your tomatoes. Try staking the plants to get the fruit off the ground.

Letter 2 – American Carrion Beetle


Oh Bugman, ever since I found you, you’re the first one I think of when I discover somethin new !
Gosh, ever since I moved to a more "private" place (Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania; about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia), I’m realizing that it’s not so "private". Well, with all the visitors and all. I’ve attached two pictures of an insect I’ve never seen. It moved rapidly and jerky when approached and avoided me at all costs. In my attempt to make him/her (let’s just say "it" to expedite things) "famous" by photographing it, it’s leg was snagged by a web thereby alerting the spider (which I’ve never witnessed). In my haste and attempt to deter a homicide, I spooked the spider away. Okay … so it was so I could have my "professional" photo displayed on your site. In any event, after apparently being extremely annoyed with me, it just flew away. Why did it wait so long before saying, "enough is enough"? Most importantly, what the heck is it?

Dear Anonymous,
Your photo of an American Carrion Beetle is blurry, but we don’t care because we love your letter. Carrion Beetles eat rotting flesh, so perhaps there was a dead thing nearby.

Letter 3 – American Carrion Beetle


Black & Yellow beetle
I discovered a dead mouse yesterday, the Bot flies were all around it. Today this beetle was all around the dead mouse. I live in Southwest Wisconsin. I am unable to find any info on this beetle. Thank you,
Cindy Schriber

Hi Cindy,
Both the adult American Carrion Beetles and the larvae feed on carrion and the maggots that are attracted to the carrion.

Letter 4 – American Carrion Beetle


Subject:  Alien bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Southern New Jersey
Date: 07/09/2018
Time: 10:24 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Let the bug free or take it to someone you don’t like.
How you want your letter signed:  Organic Man

American Carrion Beetle

Dear Organic Man,
We vote for “let the bug free” in your garden.  This is an American Carrion Beetle, and it will feed upon dead animals in your garden, including moles, toads, snakes, and birds, and they will even feed on smelly mushrooms.  They will be advantageous to your organic garden since the larvae feed on some of the flesh as well as insects attracted to rotting carcasses.  

Letter 5 – American Carrion Beetle


Subject:  Never seen this before in my area
Geographic location of the bug:  Damascus Maryland
Date: 07/12/2022
Time: 10:17 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Could you ID this bug
It has the ability to fly
I’ve seen it in front and back of the house
How you want your letter signed:  Leslie Round

American Carrion Beetle

Dear Leslie,
This is an American Carrion Beetle.  As its common name implies, it it native to the Americas and it feeds on carrion.


  • 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.

  • 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.

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