Monday, May 6, 2013

Carrion Beetle

One of the benefits of the annual Red Bridge Road cleanup is the opportunity to traipse about in the woods, looking for trash dumps back in the Forest Service land.  This usually includes finding carcasses of deer, either cleaned or those that were injured or sick and died a natural death over the winter.  A fiberglass dump under the power cut led us this time to a large hide covered deer carcass, partially cleaned by vultures.

Spring is awakening all the winter dormant life in the valley around this time of year.  With the rays of sun defrosting the frozen remains left by vultures, new life appears in the matted hide and bones.  Pulling back the rotting hide exposed a lot of scurrying carrion beetles.  It is amazing how fast they can disappear into the decomposing leaf litter.

This time there were three different species of beetles.  A sexton beetle with a few mites on board rapidly dug its way into the leaves.  A dozen small black beetles of another undetermined species disappeared in the leaf litter as well. I was finally able to scoop up this colorful beetle.

This is a margined carrion beetle, Oiceoptoma noveboracense.  It survives the winter as adult, then mates in the spring.  They lay their eggs on dead animals, which the larvae then feed on.  The adults can also feed on the carcass but prefer fly larvae, providing it a nice fresh meal while reducing the competition for its larvae's resources.

Like many beetles, the O. noveboracense  holds on to the female for prolonged periods of time, grasping her antennae with his mandibles to hand on.  Once copulation is complete, he will stroke her with his antennae which apparently encourages her to oviposit (lay her eggs).

While the thought of carrion beetles may have a certain yuck factor, imagine what the fields and forests would look like if it weren't for these natural recyclers.


  1. Curious as to how you got the ID on the beetle. I collected several carrion beetles recently; however, my usual terrible photography wouldn't allow the good folks at Bug Guide to positively identify it. I finally decided on O. inaequale. Body shape is much like yours (your SPECIMEN, not your BODY), but without the red margin to the thorax.

  2. In this case, the coloration, markings and morphology are distinctive enough to make the call, as nothing else comes close. When I have doubts I list an ID as tentative. is valuable but the response time can be variable. When uncertain, I don't write it up.