Image Source: Edited screen capture from Flickr.

This week’s Creature Feature turns to a species class that many people are not exactly fond of—some people even fear them—but they deserve their turn in the spotlight all the same.

The American Burying Beetle, or Giant Carrion Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus), is a critically endangered species and native to North America. They are between 25 and 45 mm in size (roughly 1 to 2 inches) and have a shiny, black body with orange-red markings.

This creature is carnivorous and it’s food—and breeding ground—of choice is carrion; in other words, it likes to eat and breed in dead things. However, despite its rather morbid requirements for mating, the American Burying Beetle is actually one of only a few beetle species to display any signs of parental care.

Now that you are aware of how they became known as a carrion beetle, it’s time to find out why they are a burying beetle. One thing that may have gained them this name is their habit of burying themselves in the soil during the winter. Another reason may be tied in with the carrion. American Burying Beetles will fight over carrion; the pair that wins (generally the largest male and female) will bury the carcass and then they mate. It certainly may seem like strange behavior, to be sure, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they thought the same of ours.

The American Burying Beetle used to be located throughout 35 states and at least 3 Canadian provinces. Now, their populations have decreased to a territory of 5 states and no provinces—less than 10% of their historic range. Their decline has been attributed to habitat loss, alteration and degradation, as well as the use of pesticides. It is unknown how many of these beetles are exactly left, but biologists are working to rebuild their populations. One ongoing project is on the Penikese Island of Massachusetts; here, scientists have released laboratory-raised beetles in an attempt to establish a decent population.

To find out more about the American Burying Beetle, check out these links:

Encyclopedia of Life
The Wild Ones
Roger Williams Park Zoo: American Burying Beetle Recovery Program