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Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus spp.)

Detailing the identifying qualities of the Burying Beetle, including physical features and territorial reach.

 Updated: 2/13/2018; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Burying Beetle  
Picture of Burying-Beetle

Burying Beetles are efficient consumers of small, dead vertebrates making them a critical part of the food web.

Adult Burying Beetles can bury a dead bird or small mammal, even going so far as to remove feathers or hair. The carcass is formed into a ball shape before females lay eggs on it. The beetle covers the carcass with soil or plant debris to help hide it from other things that eat away at decaying animals. Once its eggs hatch, the emerging larvae feed on the remains of the animal. In some species, the parents help feed the newly hatched larvae.

Burying Beetles are black with large red patches shaped like puzzle pieces on the elytra (wing covering). Antennae have large red clubs, or knobs at the tip. Adults feed on carrion themselves as well as rotting fruit and maggots. If disturbed, they can produce a raspy, buzzing sound that is similar to a bee. The noise comes from rubbing the abdomen against the elytra. That sound, and the alarming coloration, may help the Burying Beetle avoid conflicts with potential predators. The noise is also believed to be a call to newly hatched larvae to feed.

Various species of Burying Beetle can be found in North America. Their habitat includes the floors of fields, meadows and forests (deciduous and mixed woods). Activity at night is more typical than daytime. Because they consume dead or rotting material at both life stages, Burying Beetles help return nutrients to the food web quickly. Their food source isn't fragrant or lovely, but their role in an ecosystem is essential.

Burying Beetle Information

Category: Beetle
Common Name: Burying Beetle
Scientific Name: Nicrophorus spp.

Taxonomy Hierarchy

 Arrow graphic Kingdom: Animalia
  Arrow graphic Phylum: Arthropoda
   Arrow graphic Class: Insecta
    Arrow graphic Order: Acari
     Arrow graphic Family: Silphidae
      Arrow graphic Genus: Nicrophorus
       Arrow graphic Species: spp.

Size, Identifying Tags and Territorial Reach

Size (Adult, Length): Size (Adult, Length): 12 mm to 22 mm (0.468 inches to 0.858 inches)
Identifying Colors: black, red, yellow, orange
Additional Descriptors: flying, checkered, antennae club, helpful

North American Territorial Reach (Though Not Limited To): Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin; Wyoming; Alberta; British Columbia; Manitoba; New Brunswick; Newfoundland and Labrador; Nova Scotia; Ontario; Prince Edward Island; Quebec; Saskatchewan; Mexico

A Note About Territorial Reach: Keep in mind that an insect's reach is not limited by lines drawn on a map and therefore species may appear in areas, regions and/or states beyond those listed above. Insects are driven by environmental factors, food supplies and mating patterns and do not nescessarily work within hard-and-fast territorial lines like we humans do.

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