The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Forgotten Photo Friday: carrion beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus)

Today’s forgotten Photo features a beetle that some people might consider to be a little nasty (at least under certain circumstances): a carrion beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus, the tomentose burying beetle; Silphidae).

Carrion beetles eat…carrion: dead stuff.  Two summers past I spent a good part of an afternoon watching a male/female pair drag a mouse carcass across my back garden and systematically entomb it via careful digging.  That mouse eventually became food for their offspring, whose eggs would have been deposited near the “food source”. 

This handsome beetle daintily and thoroughly groomed his face after I plucked him off the siding of my house.  See? He’s a CLEAN dead-flesh-eating bug!  (The question remains: was he cleaning because he just enjoyed a delicious dead-thing, or because an icky-icky human dared contaminate him?)  I don’t think the face-washing was brought about by the little dudes riding on his elytra (see those two little blobs there on the upper-left patch of orange? Here, this may help:)

As I snooped around the BugGuide Silphidae images, I noticed that many showed beetles carrying mites such as these, sometimes in very , very, very high numbers. Here’s another nice pic of a different species of carrion beetle with its entourage (look at the row of mite-bums hanging over the edge of the pronotum!), courtesy of Shelly at MOBugs:

Image courtesy of Shelly (MOBugs)

 I didn’t know that these mites are common on and beneficial for the beetles: they hitchhike a ride to the dead (insert name of dead critter here) and then feed on fly maggots and eggs found in/on the flesh.  They actually CLEAN and PRESERVE the food for the beetle, and get an easy-t0-access food source themselves in return (Greg Laden’s Blog has an excellent description of how this type of mutualism can come about in nature. The whole arrangement is quite incredibly awesome, actually.

11 responses to “Forgotten Photo Friday: carrion beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus)

  1. Adrian Thysse March 11, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    Carrion, thou wayward beetle.

  2. MObugs41 March 11, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    I am fascinated by carrion beetles. I found a tomentose carrion beetle last year among some wildflowers. It actually appeared to be taking some nectar….I guess its true what they say “Variety is the spice of life” and even a self-respecting carrion beetles needs to change up the diet once in awhile. A few years ago I found a large carrion beetle at our porch light, and it was covered with hundreds of mites. The poor thing looked completely engulfed with writhing, tiny bodies. Gives a whole new meaning to “carry-on”(Carrion)

  3. Ruth Fitzpatrick March 12, 2011 at 9:39 PM

    what a totally awesome beetle!

    • TGIQ March 13, 2011 at 8:06 PM

      Pretty cool, huh? They’re lovely to look at and have fantastically interesting natural history – it’s a shame they smell so bad 😛

  4. Pingback: Schtinky Beetle | Splendor Awaits

  5. Kerry August 16, 2015 at 3:33 PM

    I stupidly left a dead hedgehog (long story) in my woodshed this week – went to bury it today and found a few of these in there – I’ve never seen them before and now I feel mean as I’ve disposed of their larder!

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