Carrion Beetle

Last updated: March 9, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/Stefan Rotter

Carrion beetles' diets depend on the specie. Some eat decaying carcasses, while others scavenge in decaying plant matter and dung.


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Carrion Beetle Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Insecta
Order
Coleoptera
Family
Silphidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Carrion Beetle Conservation Status


Carrion Beetle Facts

Name Of Young
Larvae
Group Behavior
  • Infestation
Fun Fact
Carrion beetles' diets depend on the specie. Some eat decaying carcasses, while others scavenge in decaying plant matter and dung.
Biggest Threat
Humans
Most Distinctive Feature
Black body with colorful red, orange, or yellow stripes
Other Name(s)
Burying Beetle
Incubation Period
2 to 7 days
Habitat
Animal carcasses, rotting fruit, dung, or decaying plant matter
Predators
Birds, raccoons
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal/Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Decaying matter
Common Name
Carrion beetle
Origin
Worldwide
Number Of Species
199

Carrion Beetle Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Black
  • Orange
Skin Type
Exoskeleton
Lifespan
12 months

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Carrion beetles are a family of bugs also known as Silphidae, large carrion beetles, or burying beetles. Within this family, there are two subfamilies named, Nicrophorinae and Siliphinae. There are approximately 200 species in the carrion beetle family, which is relatively small. While there have been a few tropical endemics, they are more abundant in temperate regions. Siliphinae and Nicrophorinae both feed on decaying organic matter, like animal carcasses. Where these two subfamilies differ is the way they raise their young and what decaying matter they feed on. These beetles greatly benefit forensic entomologists because when they are found on a decaying body, they reveal the estimated post-mortem interval.

Carrion Beetle Facts

  • This family of beetles is the ecosystem’s decomposers because they feed on dead organisms
  • They can live in various environments like caves and beehives
  • Carrion beetles come in a variety of colors, the most common being bright yellow and orange, with red markings on a dark background.

Carrion Beetle Species, Types, and Scientific Name

There are around 200 species of carrion beetles, all with different scientific names. However, the most popular are:

American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus)

These beetles used to have a range throughout North America. However, many populations are now extinct in Canada. But, there are large populations on the east and west coasts of the USA and Alaska.

Common Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus vespilloides)

The common sexton beetle is the most famous of the Silphidae family and is found worldwide. These beetles are completely black with red patches on their elytra.

Banded Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus investigator)

The banded sexton beetle is a large orange and black striped beetle found in the British Isles. These beetles measure around 0.9 inches long and are strong fliers. Like most beetles, they are attracted to bright lights and often end up in peoples’ homes.

Appearance: How To Identify the Carrion Beetle

Carrion beetle isolated

Carrion beetles differ in size and appearance depending on the specie.



©poidl/Shutterstock.com

The appearance of carrion beetles will differ depending on the specie. However, they usually have brightly colored orange-red bands across their black backs with orange spots on the tips of their antennae. Members of this family are usually an inch in length and have a flattened appearance. In addition, they have large club-like antennae with sensory receptors, which help them detect a decaying animal from miles away.

Habitat: Where to Find the Carrion Beetle

Since the carrion beetle occurs all over the world, their habitats will vary. But they are commonly found in decaying vertebrate animals. Some species of burying beetles prefer to inhabit animal carcasses, while others seek out rotting fruit, dung, or decaying plant matter. Some members of this family are diurnal, while others are nocturnal. In addition, many species of carrion beetle can’t fly, and if they do, they resemble and sound like bumblebees.

Diet: What Do Carrion Beetles Eat?

Carrion beetles’ diets depend on the specie. Some eat decaying carcasses, while others scavenge in decaying plant matter and dung. There is often no variation in diet between adults and larvae, but this does vary. For example, some species only eat the carcass, while others consume fly maggots that have feasted on the carcass.

The reason behind the nickname, burying beetles, is due to their strange habit of digging into the soil beneath a decaying animal, causing it to sink into the ground. Once they are done, they will remove the feathers or fur and save the meat for their larvae.

Evolution and History

Carrion beetle fossils have been found dating back to 265 million years. However, the oldest burying beetle fossil ever found was the N. Humator, dating around 10,500 years. Many members of the carrion family have wings but are unable to fly, which researchers believe is attributed to habitat change over time. Burying beetles that can fly generally seek out carcasses of vertebrates, while the beetles that can’t fly will usually feed on invertebrates that live in the soil.

Carrion Beetle Lifecycle

While lifespans can differ depending on the specie, the average lifespan for carrion beetles is 12 months. Within this timeframe, these beetles experience Holometabolous development, which also occurs in:

This development is faster in the subfamily, Nicrophorinae than in Silphinae. For example, the latter’s life cycle from the first stage to adulthood takes between 26 to 58 days. Their eggs incubate for two to seven days, and the three stages of instars develop within 30 days until they start to pupate. The pupation stage lasts for 14 to 21 days, and researchers consider this the most important part of the lifecycle because this is the stage where they sexually mature and their wings develop. After all that, they are ready to emerge as adults.

Nicrophorinaes have a much quicker lifecycle as their eggs take 12 to 48 hours to hatch, the pupation stage lasts six to eight days, and adults will emerge a few days later.

Prevention: How to Get Rid of Carrion Beetle

These beetles are different because both adults and larvae generally eat the same food. Other insects usually have different diets depending on the stage of their lifecycle. Carrion beetles aren’t fussy and will eat nearly anything that is rotting. For example, their diets consist of:

  • Dead skin cells
  • Rotting fruit
  • Rotting flesh
  • Decaying wildlife
  • Maggots

Because these beetles are so competitive, they bury their food in the ground, so they don’t have to share with flies or other pests.

What Do Carrion Beetles Do for the Environment?

Carrion beetles play a vital role in the ecosystem because they help recycle decaying matter back into the soil. Without these beetles, there would be a lot of animal carcasses, rotting food, and feces lying around. Additionally, they help reduce excess fly populations because they get to the food first.

These beetles are beneficial to humans, too, because they help with forensic investigations, helping to solve crimes faster. For example, when a carrion beetle is found on a decaying body, it can help determine the time of death. Scientists can determine the time of death based on the carrion beetle’s lifecycle stage.

Carrion Beetle Prevention

While these beetles are really beneficial to the environment, they can become pests in your garden. But should you kill them or simply remove them? Well, there are three foundations that carrion beetles need to survive, which are water, food, and shelter. Therefore, preventing or eliminating the causes that draw these beetles to your home is easier than killing these helpful bugs. However, there are some situations where treating the infested areas is the only solution.

Most carrion beetles can be removed by taking away their resources. So, firstly, you need to remove their food sources. Throw away any rotting foods, and inspect your garden for decaying vegetation. This solution is more effective with these beetles because both the larvae and adults eat the same food, so you can eliminate them both simultaneously. Sanitation is another important way of preventing a burying beetle infestation. For example, ensure your garbage cans are completely sealed inside and out, making it impossible for these bugs to access any potential food sources.

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About the Author

Chanel Coetzee is a writer at A-Z Animals, primarily focusing on big cats, dogs, and travel. Chanel has been writing and researching about animals for over 10 years. She has also worked closely with big cats like lions, cheetahs, leopards, and tigers at a rescue and rehabilitation center in South Africa since 2009. As a resident of Cape Town, South Africa, Chanel enjoys beach walks with her Stafford bull terrier and traveling off the beaten path.

Carrion Beetle FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do carrion beetles eat?

Carrion beetles’ diets depend on the specie. Some eat decaying carcasses, while others scavenge in decaying plant matter and dung. There is often no variation in diet between adults and larvae, but this does vary. For example, some species only eat the carcass, while others consume fly maggots that have feasted on the carcass.

How do I get rid of carrion beetles?

Firstly, you need to remove their food sources. Throw away any rotting foods, and inspect your garden for decaying vegetation. This solution is more effective with these beetles because both the larvae and adults eat the same food, so you can eliminate them both simultaneously. Sanitation is another important way of preventing a burying beetle infestation. For example, ensure your garbage cans are completely sealed inside and out, making it impossible for these bugs to access any potential food sources.

How long do carrion beetles live?

While lifespans can differ depending on the specie, the average lifespan for carrion beetles is 12 months.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silphidae#Diversity_and_distribution
  2. MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION, Available here: https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/carrion-beetles-burying-beetles
  3. Learn About Nature, Available here: https://www.learnaboutnature.com/insects/beetles/carrion-beetle/

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