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Tormentose Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus)

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

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Image Credit: Peter S., taken in Acton, MA
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Image Credit: Peter S., taken in Acton, MA
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Image Credit: Peter S., taken in Acton, MA
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Image Credit: Peter S., taken in Acton, MA
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The dense hairs on the pronotum of this Sexton Beetle add texture to its typically mite-laden body.

Updated: 02/01/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Mites that look like spiders often wander on the back of the Tormentose Burying Beetle. The beetle can fly, and as long as the number of mites remains small, they are harmless to the beetle. In fact, the mites seem to feed on fly maggots that would potentially attack and eat the beetle's eggs and young. In return, the flying beetle can transport the mites to a new food source at regular intervals.

This species is a type of Sexton Beetle, a kind of carrion beetle. Adults locate an animal corpse, like a bird or small mammal, and remove feathers and fur. The soft tissues are formed into a ball shape. The beetle then digs a shallow pit for the carcass bits and covers them with debris and leaf litter. After mating, females lay fertilized eggs on the decaying tissue. Once larvae hatch, parents eat and regurgitate bits of the carcass, feeding it to their young. Few insects give such devoted attention and care to their young.

The Tormentose Burying Beetle is black with four orange-yellow marks that resemble puzzle pieces. The round pronotum has two raised black humps on it, which are usually surrounded by a dense patch of pale yellow-green hairs. Other types of Sexton Beetles are hairless there. Short, stiff hairs may protrude from under the eltyra (wing coverings). Black antennae end in a frayed club.

Look for adults on or near dead animals. They can and do fly, and thanks to their shape, colors, and furry pronotum, they are often mistaken for bees. This beetle does not bite, nor does it sting. It plays an important role in nutrient cycling, helping ecosystems and is consequently an unusual, but highly beneficial insect.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Hairy insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Coleoptera
        Family: Silphidae
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          Genus: Nicrophorus
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            Species: tomentosus

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Nicrophorus tomentosus
Category: Beetle
Size (Adult; Length): 11mm to 19mm (0.43" to 0.74")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; yellow
Descriptors: hairy; furry shoulders; puzzle-shaped; dung; mites on back; spiders; bee mimic; flying; beneficial

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 11mm (0.4in) and 19mm (0.7in)
Lo: 11mm
Md: 15mm
Hi: 19mm

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 Tormentose 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 Tormentose Burying Beetle. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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