Thursday, November 18, 2010

American Burying Beetle

from Wikimedia
I just finished reading an article* by the Director of the Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation (CABBC).  In the words of Dave Barry, "I am not making this up."  Behind this long name lies a interesting story.

The American Burying Beetle (Nicophorus americanus) is an endangered species initially found in 35 states but now only occasionally is found in seven.  In addition to its colorful body, its colorful habits are worth exploring.

The beetles are drawn to the smell of decomposing flesh from as far away as two miles!  Once there, they mate (gets a little strange, doesn't it?) and then go about burying the carcass.  The may lay on their back together and use their 12 little legs to move the body to the right spot.  Once there, they strip off any fur and feathers, converting it into a little meatball which they cover with antibacterial secretions.

They live underground most of the time as their kids are growing up.  They can call their cute little white larva to supper with squeaking sounds they make with their wings.  They actually feed the little ones when they are young by regurgitating partially eaten rotten meat into their mouths.  Apparently their young don't like brocolli either.

Like other burying beetles, americanus carries mites on its body.  Somewhat disgusting to look at under magnification, they serve a purpose.  The mites eat fly maggots that are voracious competition for the dead meat so they are apparently welcomed passengers.  As my mother would say, "Each to his own taste said the woman as she kissed her cow."

The CABBC is located at the St. Louis Zoo.  There they raise the beetles in captivity and are considering reintroducing the beetle into the wild.  As you can see from the map, we are close to the known range for the americanus which is still found in Arkansas and Oklahoma.  Keep your eyes open and maybe you can put Missouri on the map.

* From Missouri Update, a publication of the Nature Conservancy.  To read the story, Go to, then click on the bison photo that’s labeled "Read the 2010 Missouri Update" to download the pdf file.  The Nature's Undertaker article is on Page 14.  While you are at it, Page 1-5 has a good story on Bison.

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