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Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus spp.)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Burying Beetle

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Image Credit: Brandon G. taken in AK
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Burying Beetles are efficient consumers of small, dead vertebrates making them a critical part of the food web.

Updated: 01/02/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
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. ©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
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Taxonomic Hierarchy

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

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Nicrophorus spp.
Category: Beetle
Size (Adult; Length): 12mm to 22mm (0.47" to 0.86")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; red; yellow; orange
Descriptors: flying; checkered; antennae club; helpful

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 12mm (0.5in) and 22mm (0.9in)
Lo: 12mm
Md: 17mm
Hi: 22mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Burying Beetle may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Burying Beetle. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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