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FROM GRAVE TO
CRADLE?
A Story of the Behavior and Life History of the Burying
Beetle (Silphidae: Nicrophorus)
REST IN PEACE?
Burying Beetles are gathered here as
Undertakers of the natural world. To
some, it is a gruesome job…removi...
IT BEGINS WITH A
STINKY SMELL!
Burying beetles are sensitive to the
odors from decomposing bodies.
These stinky odors lure...
BURIED TREASURE
v When his female partner arrives, the pair face the monumental task of
MOVING this “treasure,” their futu...
BURIED TREASURE
Once buried, this “grave” for the
newly departed becomes an
underground beetle “condo” for the
hard-workin...
NEXT COMES LOVE…AND
BABY BEETLES!
v Once they complete their new underground home and they don’t
have to worry about a hun...
POOL PARTY?
v The female beetle creates a passageway in the underground chamber
just above the “brood” ball or nest. She w...
SING ME A LULLABY
Hatching is hard work and the beetle larvae
will need nourishment. Once in the brood
“pool,” their paren...
TINY HELPERS
v Although the beetles do most of the work, sometimes they have
tiny helpers that accompany them and even LIV...
THE HITCHHIKERS
v These tiny hitchhikers ride on the burying beetles’ bodies and help them because
sometimes a sneaky fly ...
TINY HITCHHIKERS…
Tiny Hitchhikers… the phoretic mites!
Figs. 5 and 6 Nicrophorus beetle with phoretic mites.
Photographs ...
…AND FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE…
v …and the story ends how? Well, the larvae eat and grow and
crawl out of their “brood” ball cr...
LIFE CYCLE OF A BURYING
BEETLE
Fig. 7 Life cycle of a burying beetle
Illustration by Dakuhippo
http://en.wikipedia.org/wik...
CONSERVATION
v Burying beetles are important in ecosystems because they help recycle nutrients into
the soil. Plus they ke...
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Burying Beetles - From Grave to Cradle
University of Florida - Masters Degree class project
Cynthia Brast - 2013

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Burying beetles powerpoint

  1. 1. FROM GRAVE TO CRADLE? A Story of the Behavior and Life History of the Burying Beetle (Silphidae: Nicrophorus)
  2. 2. REST IN PEACE? Burying Beetles are gathered here as Undertakers of the natural world. To some, it is a gruesome job…removing the bodies of small creatures when they die. Where do they take them? Do they eat them? What was that part about a cradle? Fig. 1 American burying beetles prepare meal. © Bruce Plante. Randolph, J. 2011. Can’t Live Without ‘Em: American Burying Beetle. Defenders of Wildlife Blog. http://www.defendersblog.org/2011/06/cant- live-without-em-american-burying-beetle/ Accessed December 6, 2013.
  3. 3. IT BEGINS WITH A STINKY SMELL! Burying beetles are sensitive to the odors from decomposing bodies. These stinky odors lure them to the site of the deceased. If a male beetle arrives first, he is so excited he calls for a mate by doing a “headstand waggle” and releasing a pheromone to attract a female to his “treasure” that needs to be buried. The Headstand “Waggle!” Fig. 2 “Headstand” or “sternzeln” position, from Behavioral Ecology, 1992. Vol. 3(3), cover illustration.
  4. 4. BURIED TREASURE v When his female partner arrives, the pair face the monumental task of MOVING this “treasure,” their future “nursery”…to a secret subterranean location! They begin by finding a suitable substrate, somewhere the soil is loose and easier to dig through. Crawling over and under the body that may weigh up to 300 times more than they do, they pull and push to move the “dead weight” to this softer ground. Together, they work very fast, concealing belowground in as few as eight hours or less what will become a bassinet for their soon-to-be family additions!
  5. 5. BURIED TREASURE Once buried, this “grave” for the newly departed becomes an underground beetle “condo” for the hard-working couple. Sometimes if the carcass is large, there are other beetle “couples” sharing in this process and they form a sort of beetle co-op where they all live together for awhile. Fig. 3 Burying a mouse. Illustration from Scientific American. Inc. (1976)
  6. 6. NEXT COMES LOVE…AND BABY BEETLES! v Once they complete their new underground home and they don’t have to worry about a hungry scavenger stealing their “cradle” away from them, the beetle pair begin preparations for their new family additions. Turning the buried animal carcass into a nest-like “brood” ball for their future offspring, they work together again, as co- parents, to prepare the carcass; removing feathers or fur, and adding secretions to keep bacteria and fungi from growing in it.
  7. 7. POOL PARTY? v The female beetle creates a passageway in the underground chamber just above the “brood” ball or nest. She will lay her eggs along the walls of this tunnel and wait below with her mate for them to hatch. While they wait, the male and female create a “pool” in the “brood” ball, filling it with regurgitated fluid digested from the carcass. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will move through the tunnel and into this liquid-filled cradle to be tended by their devoted parents!
  8. 8. SING ME A LULLABY Hatching is hard work and the beetle larvae will need nourishment. Once in the brood “pool,” their parents play them a lullaby…not to put them to sleep, but to get them to to eat dinner. The parents can make “musical” sounds by stridulating…sort of like having a built-in- violin. Then the parent sips fluid from the pool and transfers it to the mouths of the larvae as they rise up towards the sound. Fig. 4 “The Cradle” Feeding of Larvae. Illustration from Scientific American, Inc. (1976)
  9. 9. TINY HELPERS v Although the beetles do most of the work, sometimes they have tiny helpers that accompany them and even LIVE with them in their new home. These tiny helpers are the phoretic mites. No…not “fairy” mites! Phoresy means they hitch a ride. Yes! You heard right! There are hitchhikers in this story…
  10. 10. THE HITCHHIKERS v These tiny hitchhikers ride on the burying beetles’ bodies and help them because sometimes a sneaky fly will lay eggs on the body of the dead animal the beetles find before they can bury it. If the fly’s eggs hatch first, they will eat and destroy the body or resource the beetle needs to use for its home, cradle, and food for its young. This is called competition. v The mites help the beetle by eating those fly eggs before they hatch so they don’t ruin all the beetles’ hard work. The beetles help the mites by giving them a ride to a free dinner. This is called mutualistic symbiosis. They work together and each of them benefits.
  11. 11. TINY HITCHHIKERS… Tiny Hitchhikers… the phoretic mites! Figs. 5 and 6 Nicrophorus beetle with phoretic mites. Photographs by Cynthia Brast. San Juan Island, WA (2010)
  12. 12. …AND FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE… v …and the story ends how? Well, the larvae eat and grow and crawl out of their “brood” ball cradle. They find a quiet place to pupate in the nearby soil and eventually emerge as adults in about twenty to sixty days, but sometimes longer, depending on the species and environmental conditions. The adult beetles go off in search of a stinky smell - the scent of their future home. If they’re lucky, they’ll find a mate…and a grave to call their own!
  13. 13. LIFE CYCLE OF A BURYING BEETLE Fig. 7 Life cycle of a burying beetle Illustration by Dakuhippo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nicrophorus_life_cycle.jpg
  14. 14. CONSERVATION v Burying beetles are important in ecosystems because they help recycle nutrients into the soil. Plus they keep us from having to smell stinky odors from decaying animals! Burying a carcass and using it for food and reproduction are the beetles’ way of participating in the cycle of life. v Conservation of beetle habitat is important. One species, the American Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus americana is on the endangered species list. Reintroduction efforts are underway to make sure populations of these burying beetles don’t become extinct. Protecting these and other species of burying beetles is important because of their fascinating bi-parental care of young. They are also useful in reducing competing fly populations and in reducing risk of disease transmission to livestock and people.

Burying Beetles - From Grave to Cradle University of Florida - Masters Degree class project Cynthia Brast - 2013

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