Explanation of Names
Greek 'carrier of the dead'
Common name refers to the carrion-burying habits (sexton's duties included digging graves)
15 spp. in our area(1)
, ~70 total; local faunas: 14 spp. in Canada & Alaska(2)
, 11 in NE(3)
, 7 in NC(4)
, 6 in FL(5)
, 5 in CA(6)
Large, dark beetles, usually with orange/red patterns on the elytra
For identification see(2)(3)(7)(8)
Eurasia (most diverse in e. Asia) and the New World; throughout NA(3)
Variety of habitats where carrion is present; some attracted to rotting fruit
Small vertebrate carrion (e.g. mice).
Remarkable parental care: adults bury a small carcass, lay eggs in it, and stay to feed the young on regurgitated carrion.
Sexton beetles' ability to locate carrion at large distances and their ability to fly make them highly attractive symbionts for the mites.
"Phoretic mites are invariably present on Nicrophorus adults and may be involved in a symbiotic relationship with the beetles. These mites feed on any fly eggs that may be in the surrounding soil or on the carcass and which would otherwise hatch into maggots, competing (with Nicrophorus larvae) for the carrion (Springett 1968). In turn, the mites receive transportation to and from food sources that would otherwise be inaccessible to them, because carcasses are randomly distributed in place and time, and are a highly unpredictable resource. Four families of mites occur on the beetles: Parasitidae, Anoetidae, Uropodidae, and Macrochelidae. Poecilochirus mites (Parasitidae) form the largest and most active group of mites on the adult beetles...."(8)
Schwarz H.H., Müller J.K. (1992) The dispersal behaviour of the phoretic mite Poecilochirus carabi (Mesostigmata, Parasitidae): Adaptation to the breeding biology of its carrier Necrophorus vespilloides (Coleoptera, Silphidae). Oecologia 89: 487-493.
Springett B.P. (1968) Aspects of the relationship between burying beetles, Necrophorus spp. and the mite Poecilochirus necrophori. J. Anim. Ecol. 37: 417-424.