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Genus Nicrophorus - Sexton Beetles

Nicrophorus vespilloides Beetle - Nicrophorus nigrita Sexton Beetle - Nicrophorus investigator Roundneck Sexton Beetle - Nicrophorus orbicollis Beetle ID [=Nicrophorus tomentosus?] Request - Nicrophorus tomentosus Nicrophorus orbicollis Nicrophorus americanus - female Nicrophorus sp. - Nicrophorus mexicanus
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Coleoptera (Beetles)
Suborder Polyphaga
No Taxon (Series Staphyliniformia)
Superfamily Staphylinoidea
Family Silphidae (Carrion Beetles)
Genus Nicrophorus (Sexton Beetles)
Other Common Names
Burying Beetles
Explanation of Names
Nicrophorus Fabricius 1775
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(2); local faunas: 14 spp. in Canada & Alaska(3), 11 in NE(4), 7 in NC(5), 6 in FL(6), 5 in CA(7)
in our area, 16-35 mm
Large, dark beetles, usually with orange/red elytral maculations
For identification see (4)(8)(9)
images that are important for identification include the hind tibia, antennal club, and the epipleuron (the rolled over lateral edge of the elytra that can be seen from aside)
Eurasia (most diverse in e. Asia) and the New World; throughout NA(4)
Variety of habitats where carrion is present; some attracted to rotting fruit
Small vertebrate carrion (e.g. mice).
They coat the carcass in saliva laced with antimicrobials to retard decay.(10)
Life Cycle
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 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...."(9)
Print References
Schwarz H.H., Mùˆller 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.
Works Cited
1.American Beetles, Volume I: Archostemata, Myxophaga, Adephaga, Polyphaga: Staphyliniformia
Arnett, R.H., Jr., and M. C. Thomas. (eds.). 2000. CRC Press LLC, Boca Raton, FL.
2.A catalog of the Nicrophorinae (Coleoptera: Silphidae) of the world
Sikes, D.S., R.B. Madge, & A.F. Newton. 2002. Zootaxa 65: 1-304.
3.Bousquet Y., ed. (1991) Checklist of the beetles of Canada and Alaska
4.The Carrion Beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae) of Nebraska
Brett Ratcliffe. 1996. University of Nebraska State Museum.
5.NCSU insect collection species inventory database
6.A Distributional Checklist of the Beetles (Coleoptera) of Florida
7.California Beetle Project
8.The Carrion Beetles of North Dakota
Guy A. Hanley and David L Cuthrell. 2008. Minot State University.
9.The carrion beetles of Canada and Alaska (Coleoptera: Silphidae and Agyrtidae)
Anderson, R.S. and S.B. Peck. 1985. Agriculture Canada.
10.The Lives of Beetles: A Natural History of Coleoptera
Arthur V. Evans. 2023. Princeton University Press.