Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bug Bytes: Burying Beetles And Mites

Photo courtesy of Kyle Hartse

Burying beetles are often called sexton beetles since they perform duties similar to a sexton or gravedigger.

These beetles have an amazing ability to locate fresh carrion from long distances, allowing them to find this valuable food source before competing scavengers do. But rather than consume the departed mouse, vole, shrew or other small vertebrate for themselves, they have other plans.

Working together, a beetle pair will move the carrion into an underground burrow. The female will then lay her eggs near the soon to be decomposing carcass. When the eggs hatch, the adult beetles display a level of parental care rarely seen in the insect world – they stay around to feed their developing beetle larvae regurgitated carrion.

Yum. Thanks, Mom.

But as you might guess, there are other things that like to make meals of recently deceased meat sources…in particular, flies and their maggot offspring.

To help ensure the burying beetle’s hard earned protein source is left for their own young to eat, they enlist help from a seemingly unlikely source…mites.

It turns out the mites like to feed on fly eggs. But if you’re a tiny little mite, finding reliable sources of fly eggs for a meal can be highly unpredictable at best.

To significantly increase the odds, the mites live on burying beetles, using them as a form of carcass-to-carcass transportation to find fly eggs.

In return, the mites eat the fly eggs on and around the burying beetle’s carrion stash, preventing maggots from hatching that would otherwise compete for the beetle’s prize.

Just another example of an amazing symbiotic relationship in the insect world.

Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information
Related Content
  • Insects play critical roles in our lives. Pollination, decomposition and soil aeration are just a few. And they do this behind the scenes, without much…
  • In Montana, the small soapweed yucca is a plant native to the central and eastern part of the state, east of the Continental Divide. But thanks to its…
  • It’s no secret that sloths move slowly. In fact, they move so slow, unique assemblages of insects can actually take advantage of their pace and align…