Larva, Nicrophorus sp.

Sexton Beetles / Burying Beetles

Carrion Beetles, larvae on carrion

Brett C. Ratcliffe’s The Carrion Beetles of Nebraska (1996) captures the poetry of Nicrophorus beetles in action:

Flying upwind against a gentle breeze, silvery moonlight reflecting dully from hardened wing covers held high over her body, orange-tipped antennae quivering in the warm night airs, a female burying beetle searches for the odor of recent death. She is seeking the relatively fresh remains of a recently dead animal so that she and a prospective mate can quickly bury it and use it as a food source for themselves and their young.

The pair of Sexton Beetles quickly bury the small carcass (perhaps that of a mouse), and shape it into a ball-like mass. Their eggs develop within the mass, and the larvae develop there too. The parents remain with their offspring, protecting them from predators, and even feeding the hatchlings by a method similar to that used by birds—regurgitation. The degree of parental care provided by Sexton Beetles is rare in the invertebrate world.

While the sights and smells of a Nicrophorus nest ball are not for everyone, the putrescent diet of the Sexton Beetles is certainly not repulsive to them, and serves well to allow the larvae to develop into large, orange-and-black shiny adults.

Among the species in this genus found on the American Insects site are Nicrophorus orbicollis, Nicrophorus tomentosus, and Nicrophorus pustulatus.

American Insects site