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American Burying Beetle - Flesh Eating Bugs (With Photos)

Updated on May 2, 2018
bravewarrior profile image

Nature and wildlife know exactly what to do to survive and thrive. Shauna believes we can learn valuable life lessons by observing nature.


To me, this is the most bizarre exhibition of Mother Nature’s creatures I’ve ever seen.

One day, not too long ago, I was sitting at the bistro on my front porch when I noticed a dead ‘thing’ in my yard. Upon inspection, I discovered it was a dead rat, fully intact. I wondered why Triscuit, one of my outdoor cats, hadn’t devoured it. Surely, if she’d killed it, she’d eat it, right? Apparently not! She made no move towards the dead rodent. I have no idea how it even died because there was no evidence of attack. Hmmm. I spent most of the day contemplating this occurrence outside the realm of Nature as I know it.

The only way I can really tell this story is by the photos I took throughout the day, depicting the various stages of what I witnessed. I saw this entire rodent slowly brought into the earth by means invisible to me at the time. I witnessed the earth becoming soft and aerated, much as is indicative to moles. The more the rodent receded into the earth - completely intact mind you - I began seeing insects I’d never seen before. They worked together as an army, pulling this mammal into the earth. Horse flies came to help by aerating the surrounding turf to ease the delivery.

I will now give you a blow by blow play of the process, which took about eight hours to complete. Then I will share with you what I discovered when I Googled this particular bug. Its name is American Burying Beetle.

Venture with me to view the life of American Burying Beetles, then I will tell you the story behind what you are about to see. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze me!


Let's Begin

The first stages of blowing my mind.
The first stages of blowing my mind. | Source
A closer look.
A closer look. | Source
First appearance of the American Burying Beetles.
First appearance of the American Burying Beetles. | Source
Being dragged into the ground.
Being dragged into the ground. | Source
Source
Flies have come to help or take advantage.
Flies have come to help or take advantage. | Source
Notice the earth.
Notice the earth. | Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
The flies and beetles are now working in tandem.
The flies and beetles are now working in tandem. | Source
The orange and black bugs are American Burying Beetles
The orange and black bugs are American Burying Beetles | Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
This is what was left.
This is what was left. | Source

An Interesting Look at the American Burying Beetle


As it turns out, American Burying Beetles, which live underground, bring the carcasses of small rodents and birds into their dens to feed larvae. Both male and female beetles share the job of feeding their upcoming offspring and will fight each other for the carcasses. Winner takes all! Once the battle is won, males and females work together to bring the prey home. They bury the carcasses in order to conserve their ‘stash’ so others cannot benefit from the feed.

These amazing beetles proceed to build a hole beneath the carcass where they cover the remains in anti-fungal and antibacterial secretions. In so doing, the beetles cause the fur to be removed and it is used as components to build their nest. American Burying Beetles help to feed the larvae, which are capable of feeding themselves, by eating the flesh, then regurgitating the fluids onto the larvae. The body of the carcass is formed into a ball, creating a crypt where the females lay their eggs. The larvae then mature inside the ‘crypt’, much like a protective tomb.

These critters may never make themselves known to you until you happen upon Mother Nature working her underground magic. She sure surprised me!




How buggy is your yard?

Were you aware of the American Burying Beetle before reading this hub?

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Some Interesting Facts About the American Burying Beetle

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about this amazing beetle.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicrophorus_americanus

Update June 2013

Last week I saw a dead baby Cardinal in my yard. Again, the cats hadn't eaten it. I don't know how the bird died. I'm assuming the cats didn't kill it or they would have devoured all but the tail feathers. Once again, the American Burying Beetles came to rid my yard of dead meat.

I've learned to recognize the mounds I periodically see in my yard as the work of American Burying Beetles taking advantage of Nature's course in order to build an underground home for their young.

Mother Nature never cease to amaze!


Shauna L Bowling

All Rights Reserved

© 2012 Shauna L Bowling

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    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      2 years ago from Central Florida

      Linda, every time I see these bugs, the prey is left untouched by cats and buzzards. I have no clue why. Needless to say, it's an amazing process to watch.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      2 years ago from Minnesota

      Wow Shauna-this is fascinating to hear about these bugs. I think it's awesome you googled this bug and what it was doing. I'm still pondering (as you are) why the cats didn't eat the rat or bird. Hmmm?? maybe another mother nature puzzle. Thanks for sharing my friend.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      2 years ago from Central Florida

      Nellieanna, the bugs didn't appear until after the rodent was dead. There was no disturbed earth around it before the beetles showed up, so I don't think the secretions were present yet. Perhaps the cats could sense, feel or hear the beetles working their way towards their prey. Who knows? Maybe we'll never know.

      It would be totally fascinating to have an underground view of what these mysterious bugs do on their journey and after they've pulled the dead beneath the surface.

      These bugs are busy and determined. The last time I saw them at work, they'd found a dead mole on the right of way on the outside of my property. The mole was lying on the street, close to the grass. The beetles appeared and, with the help of horseflies, moved the mole off the street and into the grass. It took hours! Then they went about the arduous task of pulling the mole underground. I have photos of that process as well. Maybe I'll add the photos to this hub. I'll have to look them over and make sure I have some good shots.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      2 years ago from TEXAS

      Yes, Shauna, I agree. Not loving bugs and dead things either, this process is fascinating. It truly does underscore the balance in all of our earth's nature and the way each creature fills a purpose and performs a role in it.

      The miracle is how each knows what to do with such precision! These bugs could outdo a lot of engineers with their foolproof plan and we don't even get to witness how it proceeds underground to save their species, even as it helps recycle and dispose of the dead bodies. A lot of human planning could learn from the entirety of these bugs' doing theirs! Maybe they could advise some of the presidential candidates! (wink) Or - maybe they have advised them and that's what we're seeing. . . . (ugh)

      I can't help but think that the way other animals who would automatically want to at least investigate the dead rodent, and maybe to eat it, avoided it might even be due to the antifungal and antibacterial secretions the bugs put on the carcass right away. Those are usually strong chemical compounds which could repel other animals. My cats backed off from any kind of chemical sprays. Anyway, there is likely something in either the secretions or other factors in the bugs' processing which repels other animals from interfering or claiming their loot. haha. Perhaps those secretions were even what killed the rodent. Was that what you were thinking, too?

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      2 years ago from Central Florida

      Rebecca, I love your comment. I'd much rather watch bugs at work than watch what the news throws our way.

      I read that the American Burying Beetle is near extinction. Obviously, they're alive and well in Central Florida!

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      2 years ago from Central Florida

      Nellieanna, I'm not too keen on bugs or dead things, but when I saw this process I was fascinated. Watching these mysterious bugs at work reinforces the fact that absolutely every creature on this earth has a purpose and a role in the life (and death) cycle.

      The biggest mystery to me is why my outside cats didn't touch the rodent before the beetles arrived. I also had no idea how the rat died. There were no bite marks on it. Same with the dead bird the beetles came to claim a few months later. Strange but true!

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      This sure makes me want to take a closer look at the critters in my own backyard and be more observant. Fascinating stuff going on! Get our minds off the "real" worild lol.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      2 years ago from TEXAS

      Egads! What an amazing process. Disgusting as it may be to humans, it is a genius system of nature to take care of one if its creatures. Nothing seems to be overlooked. Even that secretion on the body of the rodent obviously also keeps the cats or other natural predators from interfering with the process! It's fascinating to learn of this obscure creature which most of us will never encounter.

      Thanks, Shauna, for sharing it! Much better reading about it and seeing pictures than having to observe it myself! hugs.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      2 years ago from Central Florida

      Shyron, the burying beetles don't kill the rodents and birds. I don't know who the rat died because there were no marks on it and my outside cats weren't interested in eating eat.

      Burying beetles smell the dead from underground. They travel to the area where the dead body lies, then go to work on bringing it underground. It's a community effort and takes about eight hours to complete.

      It's fascinating to watch. Blew me away the first time I saw it. I've witnessed four buryings now. Pretty cool.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      2 years ago from Texas

      Shauna, I wish these beetles would take care of the moles in my yard the holes are already dug. Uggg--I hate moles, they are like rats.

      I wonder how they killed the rat?

      This is really interesting.

      Blessings and Hugs

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Yes it does.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      3 years ago from Central Florida

      So, you've seen it too! It's fascinating to watch. A couple of months ago, the beetles took care of a mole that had come to surface and died. Nature does have a way of taking care of things, doesn't it?

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Bravewarrior, I should of known you live in Florida, I was so amazed the first time I saw this happen. We do have a great clean up crew.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      3 years ago from Central Florida

      Peach, apparently they're an endangered species, but are alive and well in my yard. Not too long ago they came and disposed of a mole that had found its way out of the ground.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 

      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i wish these beetles migrated here. Dead rodents are left to rot with maggots and flies swarming if i don't clear it up in a day.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Debra, are they a trip or what? I've since learned that the American Burying Beetle is endangered. Given that, I feel honored that they can find their way to my yard. My big question is: why don't the cats and buzzards eat the dead flesh before the beetles find their way? I've seen these dead animals sit in my yard for a couple of days before I see the beetles. Do the cats and buzzards sense when they are making their trek to the dead bodies? Are the beetles toxic to animals that would otherwise eat fresh dead meat?

      Perhaps I need to do some more research to see if I can find answers to my questions.

      Thanx for reading and commenting, Debra!

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      4 years ago from West By God

      Wow! Amazing and creepy at the same time. I have seen many kinds of bugs in my woods and yard, but this one I never heard of. Interesting. Thanks for the information and the pictures.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Well, they didn't succeed! That rat sat there for 2 days before the beetles found it. Guess the flies were a day late and a rodent short! :-)

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 

      4 years ago from Sacramento, California

      You are welcome. The flies from from the surrounding area. Their antenna are keenly adept at picking up the smells of decay. They were there to steal the Burying Beetles find.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Thanx for the info on the flies, Davenmidtown. Do they come from underground as well? I didn't see them arrive, but they certainly were there to help.

      I read an article declaring the American Burying Beetle as endangered. It listed 5 states where they can still be found. Florida wasn't one of them, but they are alive and well on my property!

      Thanx for stopping by!

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 

      4 years ago from Sacramento, California

      So the green metallic flies are green bottle flies they are blow flies and have come to lay eggs on the carcass. The grey stripped fly is a sarcophagus fly. It is a flesh fly. Both are important in forensic entomology as they are used to determine the time of death of a corpse. The American Burying beetle is listed as endangered by the Federal Government. An awesome article on a wonderful topic.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Susan, fortunately these bugs don't like live flesh. Just dead bodies. You can stop scratching now! :-)

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Wow ! That's nature for you. I am itchy now though :)

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Suziecat, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I never would have believed it if someone told me this story. That's why I documented it with photos. And I've seen it twice since. Why I never witnessed this amazing bug at work before, I'll never know. I've owned my home since 1995 and only first saw this oddity in 2012.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 

      4 years ago from Asheville, NC

      I have never heard of such a thing before. I've always been amazed by the cunning of ants but this beetle takes the cake. Interesting Hub.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Crafty, who wrote the hub? I'd be interested to read it. I'd never heard of these things until I saw them in action. I just had to look them up. Very weird, but amazing to see them do their thing!

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 

      5 years ago

      Wow, that's cool! I just read a Hub yesterday in which I first was introduced to these beetles. I believe it's the same beetle. We don't have them in CT. But apparently they are going extinct! From what I remember, they have them in our neighboring state of RI.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Flourish, I'd never seen nor heard of them either. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it. Of course, I had to do my research to find out what they are. They never come out of the ground until they smell a dead rodent or bird. Then they go to town. Amazing!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 years ago from USA

      I have never seen or heard of these beetles. They are gross but fascinating to watch. It is just unbelievable that something that small could accomplish what they did in 8 hours. Wacky, nasty, but interesting. Your photos really helped tell the story well.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Thanx, Kasman. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it!

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 

      5 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      This is one of the most interesting nature hubs I've read. With the many thousands if not millions of insects that we don't know about on this good earth, this is a cool article to pass around to others. I enjoyed furthering my knowledge and at the same time, the amazingly detailed pictures you took. Wonderful job! Voting this up and I'm sharing.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Well, Spy, apparently Florida doesn't want the dead rodents and birds to pollute the air. If the buzzards don't get them, the burying beetles will. Very weird, huh?

    • unknown spy profile image

      Not Found 

      6 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      really?? burying beetles? we had so many incidents like these but i never saw these bugs. when a rodent dies, it will just rot and pollute the air.

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Sorry 'bout that, Paula! As s single mom I've had to get over my fear of bugs, but these weren't in my house so I allowed myself to be curious. Absolutely weird, huh?

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      I am sufficiently disturbed, nauseous and itching all over. EEK! and YUK!....pretty much all I can think of. I am the lady who screams and runs outside until someone kills the spider on my ceiling.....or shoos away the flies and bees........More power to you, friend.

      Something is crawling all over me right now!...........UP++++

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Always, it was a trip for sure! Thank God for cameras, or you would never have believed me!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I'm so glad you were there with your camera. This is amazing! Thank you..

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Beckie, if I didn't see it with my own eyes, I would never have believed it. What's cool, is a few days after the sandy mound is left, the grass grows right back over it as if they were never there. I wonder what other anomalies are living under my lawn?

      Thanx for the lightning bugs and Happy Thanksgiving my friend! I know this is a tough time of year for you.

      Sending Love and Hugs,

      Shauna

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      6 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Wow - I did not find this a bit gross, rather it was absolutely fascinating and until reading this hub, I had no idea these critters even existed. Amazing display of working together, by the way.

      Awesome - now maybe I can incorporate these bugs towards helping me hide the body's of my victims! LOL

      Sending non-flesh eating fireflies to you and wishing you wonderful holiday.

      Love, Beckie XO

    • bravewarrior profile imageAUTHOR

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Bill, I didn't even know there was such a thing as a burying beetle. I've lived in my house since 1995 and this is the first time I'd seen them. I agree; very weird!

      Linda, I had to document it or no one would ever believe me! Pretty fascinating, albeit gross! I found it odd that Triscuit would go nowhere near the rat. Maybe she could hear the beetles below?

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 

      6 years ago from Central Virginia

      That has to be the d3mnest thing I've ever seen. Mother Nature really does never cease to amaze me. Other than some biologist with nothing to do, you're probably the only person in the world to actually document the process. Only you! This is really amazing and I agree with Bill. You live somewhere with weird bugs. Great hub Shauna.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Industrious little buggers, aren't they? You live in a weird area with weird bugs and lizards and big things with teeth!!!!!!! I think I'm quite happy here in Washington. We only have Sasquatch to deal with. :)

      Great pictures Sha, and very interesting. I have never heard of them and I sure don't want to see them in person.

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