Burying beetle

As Valentines Day approaches and love is in the air, it seems only fitting February’s Bug of the Month should be a bug in love.

Fast Facts

Latin name: Nicrophorus vespillo

Notable feature: Brightly coloured bands of orange- red on their wing cases, bright orange bobbles on the ends of their antennae

Rarity in the UK: Rare / Common

Where in the UK: Widespread throughout all of the UK including Northern Ireland

Introducing the burying beetle! Burying beetles (also known as Sexton beetles) are known as the undertakers of the animal world (romantic right?) and can be found wherever there are small animal corpses. They belong to the order Coleoptera, the largest order in the class Insecta.

Love at first corpse!

Males and females first meet at corpses of dead and decaying animals such as mice and small birds. When love has struck males and females pair up and fight off any rival couples trying to take charge of the corpse. Once a pair has won the corpse they dig a hole beneath it and bury it, this is where they get their name from.

Teamwork

The burying beetle is incredibly strong and the pair will work together to move the body to a suitable spot for burial. Depending on the animal any hairs or feathers are removed, and the body is shaped into a ball and kept as clean as possible. Once it is preened to perfection the body is buried underground, sometimes as much as 60cm underground! Watch this great footage of them burying a hedgehog.

Family life

The female will then lay her eggs on the soil immediately above the body. Once the eggs have hatched the body is used as food for the larvae. Both the female and male continue to care for the larvae sharing the workload, males will even stand in for the female and take on her role if she dies, making the burying beetle rather unusual and extremely interesting in the beetle world.

Where do they live?

Nicrophorus vespillo are common and widespread throughout all of the UK in coastal, farmland, grassland, heathland and woodland habitats, and in Towns and gardens! They can be found between April and October.

Did you know?

  • Burying beetles can smell a rotting animal corpse from up to a mile away!

  • Mites ‘hitch a ride’ on burying beetles to get from one place to another!