American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus)
Watercolor, colored pencil and gouache
The American burying beetle, the largest species in the Nicrophorus genus, is also known as the giant carrion beetle and is a critically endangered species endemic to North America, but existing now in only 10% of its historic range of Nova Scotia to Florida, Texas and South Dakota. As the name implies, it feeds on decaying flesh, or carrion, a service which makes it critically important to nutrient cycling in its environment. It carries tiny mites on its back which aid in cleaning the small dead mammals and birds it locates for its food. There is a competition between beetles for each meal and the winners, usually the largest couple, will slide on their backs into a dug-out burial chamber to continue with the meal, made easier by the mites. This will then turn into their “brood ball” with their special embalming fluids, and it is where they will lay their eggs over the next 24 hours. When the grubs emerge over the next few days, they will be cared for by both parents, an unusual behaviour for this group of insects. For more about this fascinating species, visit the Center for Biological Diversity>>
Update: The American burying beetle, while on its way back from extinction, was removed from the endangered species list after a push from big oil during the last US presidential term (2017-21). Important protections are again being sought by conservations as they fight to re-enlist it as endangered. To find out more, read Courthouse News, 25 March, 2021
Project: Commissioned for a collection of exemplar species pages during the launch phase of the Encyclopedia of Life (eol.org) whose goal is to provide information about every species on the planet.
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