By Cindy Murphy
"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 swans, caterpillars, 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 – blackberries, sweet 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.
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.