Parenting 101 for Burying Beetles: Raising Kids in a Corpse
Morbid as it sounds, burying beetles (Genus: Nicrophorus) put carcasses to good use.
From the video, the beetles bring the dead animal body back to its burrow. The dead body becomes a “nursery” and the narrator calls this a “home improvement project”.
It is a strange behaviour to us but it is actually how these beetles reproduce and survive.
Burying beetles take good care of their young. The carcass is important to the beetles as it determines the number of larvae that can be reared. Beetles also fight with other beetles or scavengers over these carcasses. (Eggert & Muller, 1997)
Unlike other animals, both the male and female burying beetles serve as caretakers of their young. Variations of groups exist: Single female beetles may bury carcasses themselves, while single males emit pheromones to attract females. Burying beetles can share the carcass in groups with multiple males and females as well. (Eggert & Muller, 1997)
Underground, the fur or feathers of the carcass is removed. The carcass is rolled in a ball and a “crypt” is constructed. After around 8 hours to several days (depending on the species), the female beetle lays her eggs. As the embryos grow, the parents remove soil from the carrion ball and moisten it with anal and oral secretions. This is done to remove fungus and prevent the growth of mould. (Eggert & Muller, 1997)
Researchers found that without anti-microbial secretions, the young would be unable to gain weight, leading to death. Thus, it is important for the carcass to stay germ-free and fresh as it is food for the larvae. (Carpenter, 2011)
The adults feed on the carcass and regurgitate the carrion to the larvae. The larvae beg for food but as they grow, they feed more on their own. (Eggert & Muller, 1997)
Isn’t this parenting style gross and fascinating at the same time?
“Burying Beetles” by NationalGeographic YouTube Channel. 6 June 2011. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ua1wC59phpk (accessed on 9 April 2013)
Carpenter, Jennifer. Insects Use Antibacterial Secretions to Protect Young. BBC News, 25 August 2011. URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14669012 (accessed on 9 April 2013).
Eggert, Anne-Katrin & Josef Karl Muller, 1997. Biparental care and Social Evolution in Burying Beetles: Lessons from the Larder. In: Choe, Jae C. & Bernard J. Crespi (eds.), The Evolution of Social Behaviour in Insects and Arachnids. Cambridge University Press,Cambridge, 1997, pp. 216-236.