Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

Beetlemania

By Cindy Murphy


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"All that lives beneath Earth's fragile canopy is, in some elemental fashion, related. Is born, moves, feeds, reproduces, dies. Tiger and turtle dove; each tiny flower and homely frog; the running child, father to the man, and in ways as yet unknown, brother to the salamander. If mankind continues to allow whole species to perish, when does their peril also become ours?" ~ The World Wildlife Fund

I ran across that quote on a Web site my co-worker showed me at work.  I’ve read some interesting blogs about nature since joining the GRIT community a short time ago – beautifully descriptive stories about box turtles and liatris fields; gorgeous photos of swanscaterpillars, and waterfalls that take my breath away.  I’ve written of a few of my own experiences with nature; of flowers, and an evening walk with my daughters while surrounded by fields and forest.  And then there were those mouth-watering nature’s bounty blogs – blackberriessweet corn, and blueberries; what could be better than something sun-ripened and freshly plucked?  But nature is not always so pretty as blooming flowers, as sweet as box turtles in love, or cute and cuddly as baby goslings.  And fair warning:  if you’re eating something fresh from your garden, you may want to put it down to continue reading; I wouldn’t want anyone to lose their lunch.  But as icky as it might be, the following story is fascinating and has a lot of people excited. 

My co-worker is extremely excited about carrion beetles she discovered in her yard in the woods. Coming home from work one day, she spotted a dead mouse. With an armload of stuff, she went into the house first, thinking she'd come back to dispose of the carcass after she got settled in. She forgot about it until later that evening when she and her husband went outside to sit on the porch swing.

They found the carcass was already being taken care of by a couple of big black and red spotted beetles. Carrion beetles are flesh eaters – specifically dead flesh.  Scavengers, they play an important role in returning decaying materials back to the earth.  These two beetles, working together, had rolled the dead mouse over twelve feet from where she had spotted it earlier. Somewhat grossed out, but fascinated, her husband ran to get the camera.

Carrion Beetles?

Later she did an Internet search on carrion beetles, and found a site containing a description and photos of what she thought were her beetles.

The American Burying Beetle can detect the smell of death from two miles away, and swoops in to retrieve the carcasses of small rodents, to feed on, lay their eggs in, and then bury. Once the eggs are hatched, they actually tend to the larva as do bees, social wasps, and ants ... or even as a mammal tends to its young – a very rare thing for a beetle to do.

And the beetle itself is rare. Once living throughout the eastern and central United States, it’s now endangered, and is thought to still survive only in a handful of states – Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.  Attempts are currently being made to reintroduce it to Ohio and Massachusetts.  The last recorded sighting in Michigan was over thirty years ago; it's thought to have long since become extinct here.

After reading the website, she contacted the Michigan branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, emailed them the pictures at their request, and now they are as excited about this discovery as she. They are in the process of calling in the beetle experts to determine if, in fact, what looks to be the American Burying Beetle, is what they saw.

Meanwhile, she's taking care not to fall asleep on the porch swing; she doesn't want to wake up, and find she's being rolled off into the woods by a couple of bugs.  I’ll post any updates in the comment section here.  I’ll leave you beetle then; you may now safely carrion with your lunch.  Get it?  “I’ll leave you be ‘til then; you may now safely carry on with your lunch.”  Sigh.  If a couple of flesh-eating beetles didn’t turn your stomach, surely those couple of bad puns did.

megan
9/12/2012 11:08:37 PM

We had there of these in Bennington Vermont They are really scarey and can they hurt you??


cindy murphy
10/20/2011 5:44:14 AM

Very cool, Danial, that you got to see so many at the same time, and examine one of them up close and personal. I'm not sure I could have done that; I'm not (very) squeamish about insects....except when they're on me. Thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment. Enjoy the day.


danial
10/19/2011 3:28:12 PM

I live in the great Pacific Northwest and have came across these beetles several times. Both in Washington and Oregon. Most recently in my own back yard about three weeks ago. After trimming fat off chicken, I tossed the waste in my garbage, and forgot it was there. Three to four days later we had six to eight of these magnificent beetles landing on the outside of the garbage can, trying to find a way inside.I momentarily captured one for observation. There mandibles are very impressive, and the stink strong. I soon turned him loose, and cleaned out my garbage can.


cindy murphy
9/12/2008 4:58:01 AM

We got word from DNR yesterday - the beetles my co-worker found are a burying beetle, but NOT the Federally endangered American Burying Beetle. They exhibit all the same behaviors as do American Burying Beetles, but do not have the characteristic orange splotch on their heads. Still, the beetles are pretty cool, (in an "ewww" kind way). I think it's amazing that there are all these kinds of creatures I've never heard of, or seen, working behind the scenes to keep the earth in balance.


cindy murphy
9/10/2008 8:22:10 PM

Hi, Lacy. I didn't realize the American Bury Beetles were on CSI. A starring role, or cameo appearance. I can only imagine in what content they were featured, (shudder). I must have missed the episode, and been watching through squinted eyes, as I tend to do at the squeamishly gross parts. Update on the beetles: there is none. We've not heard back yet from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and I wonder what's the hold up? The Michigan DNR is now involved.


razor family farms
9/10/2008 3:20:08 PM

As a fan of CSI, I can tell you that I am a big fan of t5hese beetles and love that you wrote about them and the important work that they do. Lacy NEWS at Razor Family Farms (GRIT.com) RazorFamilyFarms.com


cindy murphy
9/6/2008 8:06:06 AM

Hi, Lori, Debbie, and Hank. "Nature's Housekeepers" - I like that, Lori; it's such a fun and accurate description. And it's not just the carnivores - the carrion beetles, crows, buzzards like Hank mentioned. I told a friend about the carrion beetles, and she remembered as a kid, following a couple of tumblebugs, (dung beetles), rolling their ball of dung. They too, are Nature's Housekeepers - part of Earth's Sanitation Crew. She gave a web-site address with the following information, which contained the following bit of information I thought was quite interesting, (being a lover of interesting, but weird and useless historical type facts): "The Sacred Scarab of the ancient Egyptians is a dung beetle of the Mediterranean countries. This insect has figured importantly in their art and religion for thousands of years. The ball, which the beetles were supposed to roll from sunrise to sunset, symbolized the earth; and the beetle, itself, the sun. As an emblem of eternity, it was placed in tombs with their dead and its image carved in stone and precious gems. Because it disappeared into the soil and afterwards reappeared, it stood for resurrection. Later, Roman soldiers wore scarab seals set in rings to bolster their courage." www.newton.dep.anl.gov/natbltn/600-699/nb605.htm Still no word on a definitive indentification of the carrion beetles here.


debbie_1
9/4/2008 8:38:06 PM

Look at those Beetles!! They are actually kinda pretty and BIG, but then again they eat dead flesh! That is Remarkable! I am finding that I am learning quite a bit on this site and if I ever do encounter one of those beetles (my chances in IL are probably rare) I will do exactly what your friend did. Thanks for sharing Cindy .. what a finding!!! I will have to share this with my husband, I bet he never saw that on Discovery Channel!


lori
9/4/2008 3:55:36 PM

Cindy, I think this is very exciting indeed! To have found a creature previously thought to be extinct in this area, and to have photographs of it is wonderful and exciting! Maybe not all creatures in this world are beautiful. Vultures are one such creature that comes to my mind. However, they still have their place, and do us a great service. They take care of those already dead and decaying, icky, fowl things that nobody wants to look at or get a smell of! They are nature's housekeepers of sorts. For me personally, I can see the ugliest bug ever, and still run for the camera to take pictures of it! Oh, and by the way, I read this blog entry while I was eating a garden veggie stir-fry and didn't loose any of it! ;^)


hank will_2
9/4/2008 2:52:44 PM

What a beautifully composed piece. I am thrilled that you took on this topic. Death, after all, sustains life. That's how it has always been and that's what our system is built upon. Where would we be without the scavengers, who make good use of the remaining potential energy that's stored in formerly living remains? I think earth would be a lot messier without carrion beetles, crows, buzzards and all manner of bacteria, fungi and protozoans.