Common sexton beetle, Gemeiner Totengräber, Gewone Doodgraver (Nicrophorus vespilloides)

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Erik van den Ham on August 8, 2010

Common sexton beetle, Gemeiner Totengräber, Gewone Doodgraver (Nicrophorus vespilloides) (link to Dutch Wikipedia info)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Burying beetles or sexton beetles (genus Nicrophorus) are the best-known members of the family Silphidae (carrion beetles). Burying beetles are true to their name. Most of these beetles are black with red markings on the elytra (forewings). They bury the carcasses of small vertebrates such as birds and rodents as a food source for their larvae. They are unusual among insects in that both the male and female parents take care of the brood.

The genus name is sometimes spelt Necrophorus in older texts. This is an emendation by Thunberg (1789) of Fabricius's original name, and is not valid.


Burying beetles have large club-like antennae equipped with chemoreceptors capable of detecting a dead animal from a long way away. After finding a carcass (most usually that of a small bird or a mouse), beetles fight amongst themselves (males fighting males, females fighting females) until the winning pair (usually the largest) remains. If a lone beetle finds a carcass, it can continue alone and await a partner. Single males attract mates by releasing a pheromone from the tip of their abdomens. Females can raise a brood alone, fertilizing her eggs using sperm stored from previous copulations.

The carcass must be buried by the beetle(s) to get it out of the way of potential competitors, which are numerous.

The prospective parents begin to dig a hole below the carcass. While doing so, the beetles cover the animal with antibacterial and antifungal oral and anal secretions, slowing the decay of the carcass and preventing the smell of rotting flesh from attracting competition. The carcass is formed into a ball and the fur or feathers stripped away and used to line and reinforce the crypt, where the carcass will remain until the flesh has been completely consumed. The burial process can take around 8 hours. Several pairs of beetles may cooperate to bury large carcasses and then raise their broods communally.

The female burying beetle lays eggs in the soil around the crypt. The larvae hatch after a few days and move into a pit in the carcass which the parents have created. Although the larvae are able to feed themselves, both parents also feed the larvae: they digest the flesh and regurgitate liquid food for the larvae to feed on, a form of progressive provisioning. This probably speeds up larval development. It is also thought the parent beetles can produce secretions from head glands that have anti-microbial activity, inhibiting the growth of bacteria and fungi on the vertebrate corpse.

At an early stage, the parents may cull their young. This infanticide functions to match the number of larvae to the size of the carcass so that there is enough food to go around. If there are too many young, they will all be underfed and will develop less quickly, reducing their chances of surviving to adulthood. If there are too few young, the resulting adult beetles will be large but the parents could have produced more of them. The most successful beetle parents will achieve a good balance between the size of offspring and the number produced. This unusual method of brood size regulation might be the result of the eggs being laid before the female has been able to gauge the size of the carcass and hence how many larvae it can provision.

The adult beetles continue to protect the larvae, which take several days to mature. Many competitors make this task difficult, e.g. bluebottles and ants or burying beetles of either another or the same species. The final-stage larvae migrate into the soil and pupate, transforming from small white larvae to fully formed adult beetles.

Aside from eusocial species such as ants and honey bees, parental care is quite rare among insects, and burying beetles are remarkable exceptions.

M.Kranenborg-Torn on August 8, 2010

Mooi kevertje, waar heb je die weer opgedukkeld.

Slaapse Greetje

Erik van den Ham on August 8, 2010

Leukie he Greetje nog één van het opruimende type ook. Kwam hem zo maar tegen op het pad, het beestje had grote haast.

Slaap lekker maar dat gaat vast lukken na al die 'slaapbollen', Erik

bdeh on August 9, 2010

Mooie opname van een bijzonder Gewone Doodgraver Erik. Groeten Berend

©junebug on August 9, 2010

That's really an excellent macro of this pretty beetle, Erik! Thanks for adding some extra information! Never knew what an amazing beetle this is! Well, the world of insects is fascinating and full of miracles! Best wishes, Anne

MarekEwjanStachowski on August 9, 2010

like & greetings from Poland :)

Erik van den Ham on August 10, 2010

Dank je Berend!

Hi Anne they are really useful burying the dead animals. Nature is indeed fascinating. Thanks for your praise and visit.

Hello Marek thanks for your visit and the Like.

Groeten, Greetings, Erik

odeveld on August 10, 2010

Hallo Erik,

Deze is inderdaad famillie van diegene op mijn foto!

Ook een leuk diertje!

Vriendelijke groeten, Odeveld

Isaie D on August 12, 2010

Mooie foto van deze prachtige kever die speciale voelsprieten Erik.

Groetjes, Dani

Chris10 © on September 20, 2010

Ook last van de snuitkever bij jullie in Assen Erik? Was net op 't nieuws. Ziet er niet uit, al die aangevreten blaadjes.

Thuis heb ik ook wel eens een tor/kever in mijn planten en die zijn o zo moeilijk te vangen. Want ook die komen 's avond's pas te voorschijn. Waar ze altijd vandaan komen, is voor mij een vraag...

Doei, Christien.

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  • Uploaded on August 8, 2010
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    by Erik van den Ham