Schtinky Beetle

OK, its not Nicrophorus ‘schtinkii’, but rather Nicrophorus investigator. However, in the confines of my white bowl field studio, and perhaps magnified by parabolic reflection, this burying beetle was more than a little on the stinky side of odoriferous. But then, what else can you expect from a beetle that thrives in rotting flesh?

"Burying beetle, Nicrophorus investigator"

This one was perambulating (‘investigatoring‘?) across a path near the shores of the Milk River in southern Alberta, and I gently guided it into a plastic pill container (8 for a dollar, small and handy, I try to have a few in my pockets at all times) and took it back to camp. I gave it the white bowl treatment for these photographs, which show a few key points about Family Silphidae and the Nicrophorus genus. Working from left to right we see an exposed tushie  abdomen with 3 segments visible behind the elytra, which are short, truncate and black marked with orange. There is dense metasternal  pubescence.  The antenna have a club consisting of four segments, and in N. investigator the basal segment is black with the three apical segments orange. The life cycle of burying beetles is fascinating and I will go into that in a future post. For now I just want to point out the mite that is clinging under the head.

Mite on Nicrophorus invstigator

This specimen had only one hanger-on, but they can often be found with a great deal more. The mites are phoretic, that is, they are only around for the ride. The burying beetles transport the mites to carrion, and the mites feed on the eggs and grubs that are already there. The beetle benefits because the mites are stripping the carcass of what could be competitors for the carrion on which the beetle grubs live.


Beetle I.D provided by Guy A. Hanley at BugGuide, with some help from Anderson, R.S. & Peck, S.,1985, The carrion beetles of Canada and Alaska: Coleoptera: Silphidae and Agyrtidae, Insects and Arachnids of Canada Handbook Series, 13, 121 (pdf) Page 94 Figs. 37, 38. showed the base of elytra of Nicrophorus species (dorsal view) N. hybridus and N. investigator, which would otherwise be difficult to distinguish from each other.

For more on burying beetles visit:

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This entry was posted in Alberta, Anatomy, Blog Link, Canada, Coleoptera, Entomology, invertebrates, macro, Phoresy, Silphidae, White Studio and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Dave 18 February, 2012 at 9:49 AM #

    Nice, especially considering how nasty they are to work with. The orange spots on the elytra are quite striking when the beetles are flying, especially in a shaded understory. Amazed at the large glowing spots flying by, I knocked one down at the Moose Pasture last summer and grabbed it. Oh Yuck!

    • Adrian 18 February, 2012 at 1:38 PM #

      This seems to be the most wide spread of the Nicrophorus sp., and its odd that I have never come across them before. I guess I need to start paying more attention to dead stuff, and perhaps bring a rotting chicken leg or two along on my photo outings.

  2. Dave 19 February, 2012 at 9:25 AM #

    Dead mice are easier to carry along and seem to work fine.

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