Forgotten Photo Friday: carrion beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus)
March 11, 2011
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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.