The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Hey Geek, what’s this? Mystery critter from northern Ontario

This latest installment of “What’s This?” comes via email from my own aunt Elizabeth, who discovered a new-to-her insect while at her cottage, which is on a small bay north of Manitoulin Island in Ontario. She has been cottaging on the same body of water since she was a child, and knows the wildlife pretty well, but:

Never saw this before. Any ideas?

Photo by Elizabeth, used with permission.

I’ll bet that many of you recognize this charismatic beastie…

It’s the unmistakable American Burying Beetle, Necrophila americana (Silphidae). The only species of the genus in North America, it is incredibly widespread in the eastern and central areas of the continent. As the genus name implies, it is a lover of dead things: a carrion-feeder, that also feeds on maggots and other carrion beetles.

Although their diet may seem distasteful, they perform a critical service as part of nature’s clean-up crew. A few years ago, in my garden, I watched a pair of carrion beetles (a different species than this one) drag a mouse carcass into a patch of loose soil, then, over the course of an hour or so, they buried the entire thing until no trace remained. This seemed to be an amazing feat for two insects a fraction of the size of the rodent! The young of that pair of beetles would have fed on the carcass after they hatched: burying beetles are excellent providers in addition to being marvelous cleaner-uppers…

2 responses to “Hey Geek, what’s this? Mystery critter from northern Ontario

  1. Jodi July 11, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    AKA American Carrion Beetle, not to be confused with Nicrophorus americanus, the American Burying Beetle that is critically-endangered, once present in Ontario but now restricted to a handful of U.S. states. Love this guy! Makes very short work of any unlucky small mammal that should happen to perish in the woods here in Vermont.

  2. The Pal Guy July 12, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    This is a American carrion beetle (Necrophila americana) and I know it very well as I too have seen it many times in Ontario. Hope this answers your question.

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