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Monday, Feb. 24, 2003


Burying beetle

* Japanese name: Yamatomon shidemushi
* Scientific name: Nicrophorus japonicus
* Description: Burying beetles are large insects, growing up to 20 mm long. They have large eyes, strong legs, powerful biting jaws and club-shaped antennae. These beetles are black, with distinctive orange markings on the elytra (wing cases). The clubbed ends of the antennae are also orange.
* Where to find them: Wherever small mammals and birds may be found, in grasslands, woods, parks, gardens and farms.
* Food: The flesh of small dead mammals, such as mice and moles, and dead birds. Soon after something dies and starts rotting, a burying beetle is likely to turn up. The first male and female to arrive at the site of the carcass dig away the soil underneath to bury it and fight other beetles to turn them away. If the carcass lies on unsuitable ground, the beetles will slowly drag it to a good place for burial. With their strong jaws, the beetles are able to cut through grassroots to dig a hole. The carcass is stripped of fur or feathers and coated in secretions to slow down bacterial decay. Sometimes a limb or two is amputated by the beetles, the better to fit the carcass, now called a brood ball, into the hole.
* Special features: Burying beetles have an excellent sense of smell, which enables them to find carrion. The couple that bury the carcass mate, and the female lays her eggs in the hole made for the brood ball. Most insects lay their eggs and leave the larvae to their fate, but female burying beetles tend to their young, feeding them food regurgitated from the brood ball and protecting them from other insects. Such caring behavior is usually seen only in social insects, such as bees and ants. The larvae spend about eight days eating, then they pupate. After two weeks they emerge as adults.

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