Saturday, August 18, 2007

Where does all the roadkill go?

No, not carry-on beetle.

Where does all the roadkill go?

Now I don’t expect you to instantly fall in love with the carrion beetle… (well, why not actually - oh right, their "disgusting!").  but it’s not like I’m asking you to go around putting them in your mouth - that would be downright disgusting. But I am asking you just to stop for a moment and appreciate yet another overlooked but eloquent example of nature in action. I mean do you know how fascinating these creatures really are? Do you even know they exist?

After finding a carcass, like a small mammal or bird, groups of Carrion Beetles will fight over it. In a demonstration of civility, males only fight other males, and females only other females. To the victorious pair go the spoils. But to keep it from actually spoiling, the beetles first remove all the fur and skin and then form the flesh into a ball. Then they cover the “meatball” with anti-fungal oral and anal secretions to keep it from rotting.

And this is just the foreplay.

Then they bury it in a cozy fur-lined “crypt” from within which, the happy couple engorge themselves on meat and then mate. After that, the female will lay her eggs in the soil surrounding the crypt.

After a few days the larvae hatch and fall into the crypt, now called a brood den, and the parents begin to regurgitate a meaty pate for the larvae eat.

During this phase, the parents can somehow assess how many offspring the meatball can sustain and if necessary, they’ll cull the brood - commit infanticide - to reduce the number of mouths to feed.

After a few days of family feasting and infanticide fun, the remaining larvae migrate into the soil and pupate. They transform from small white larvae to fully formed adult beetles, and the cycle begins again.

When a large carcass becomes available, such as a deer, several pairs of beetles may cooperate to bury the whole thing and then raise their broods communally.

Oh right, the beetle species featured in the video is Nicrophorus vespilloides (I think). But believe it or not, there is an endangered species called the American Burying beetle Nicophorus fabricius. Inidentally, the endangered species was first described by Johanne Christian Fabricius (who also described the Black Widow Spider Lactodectres mactans).

It's just a little wonder of nature right under our noses (or at least under dead mice on the side of the road).
 Awed by nature and a little odd-by-nature
 Another New Series In-development with Animal Planet


Bella123 said...

where does it come from??

Anonymous said...

What a delightful and educational video. I sent its URL to several people, none of whom had any previous beetle interest. All agreed it was great. Thanks Rich.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am student from the University of agriculture in Prague (, this year I have made a review on carrion beetles and I like your video! I´d like use your video in my presentation but I have to own a original version suitable for Powerpoint. If you should upload this video somewhere where I can download it, i will be very pleased. Sorry for my english :) if you don´t mind if I use your video about carrion beetles please contact me at janek.dolezal (a) THANK YOU!

Jude said...

Hi Rich!
I came home to find one of these beautiful Beetles on my sliding patio door so I caught it in a glass and set it free outside( I kinda like bugs...kind of unusual for a girl I'm told)Oh well anyway I did a search and found this video! Thanx it was good to know about what I had just set free! Take care! Jude ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey, just returned from the ext. office here in north il and had taken in a beetle that I found crawling in all places across my office basement room. We identifyed it as the one you talked about but mine was black and yellow. I read somewhere that they are an endangered species. I came home and put it where it could be really happy.......... in my compost bin! I did not see anyothers though. victoria

Anonymous said...

Had a dead squirrel in my back woods. After 1 day dead these little critters had jumped on it. After three days they had pulled it half way into the leaf clutter. Thanks for helping me ID them. First hit on Google.


Anonymous said...

I think i found something like this, except it flew into my car after bouncing off the windshield. Do they fly well enough for that? And since it hit the windshield it was dead i think and a bit squished because it was emiting a horrible odor like something dead. Could this be from eating rotting meat. And if so, could it be the carrion beetle? Thanks for your help, Sami

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Anonymous said...

Fantastic blog post! Where did you read about this, do you have a reference? I am particularly interested in the biology of these beetles and am doing some work on them at the moment. Do you mind if I link this post on my Wordpress?