Saturday, August 18, 2007

Carrion Beetle: Exstinktion in Black & Orange?

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… 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).