Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tomentose Burying Beetle

A few weeks back, while touring streamside forests along Little Beaver Creek in Columbiana County with Jim Dolan, I noticed a most interesting bug. It had alighted on a downed tree, and I was eager to see what it was. A closer view revealed a good-looking little beast; unfortunately, before I could get around the tree trunk and into an optimal lighting situation, it bolted.

So, the following pics are not of National Geographic quality, but the animal's charms, such as they are, can be seen to a degree.

Tomentose Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus. Tomentose = a woolly coating of hairs. Look at that whitish plate over the thorax, and you'll see how this thing got that most unsexy of names. The plate is thickly cloaked in furlike hair; it is tomentose.

This bears repeating. Should you believe in reincarnation, do your homework, and lobby your god for something good, like a Golden Eagle. I could see an entomologically ignorant nature-lover selecting this beetle for their second go 'round, because it is showy and orange and black. But they would probably regret their selection.

The beetle is a looker, but a ghoulish existence comes with the package. They don't call these things burying beetles for nothing. The romantic period of your new burying beetle lifestyle would involve you and the little honey finding a small corpse, preferably a mouse or something similar; a bit on the ripe side, ideally. After you two consummated your relationship, it'd be time to excavate the earth from under your dead mouse, and it ease in into the loam. Your woman would then cast her eggs into the rotting flesh, and you lil chitinous charmers would then conclude covering the body.

Then, when your offspring - juicy little grubs! - hatch, they'd have instant access to decomposing mouse flesh, and thus life begins for the Tomentose Burying Beetle.
I gotta admit, the comblike antennae are pretty cool, but they don't compensate for the culinary choices that the beetle has to make. I'm sure they are effective at picking up the scent of malodorous meat from great distances, though.

A further indignity that you would suffer as a Tomentose Burying Beetle are these pesky orange mites, which can clearly be seen perched on the beetle's back and display an utter disrespect for the halloween-colored bug. They are "hitch-hikers"; the mites don't feed on or otherwise molest the beetle, they merely hop on and get a free ride to the next meal.

The mites feed on fly larvae and perhaps other nasty undertakers of the insect world that are found on carcasses, and what better way to get to your next meal than climb aboard the guy who will ferry you right to it? This mite/beetle relationship is a classic example of commensalism, an arrangement in which one organism benefits (mite) and the other is apparently unaffected (beetle). However, some theorize that the burying beetles actually benefit as well, as the mites apparently don't bother their larvae, and if that's the case, they probably help to kill off the beetle's competitors.

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2 comments:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

This is the perfect ghoul for halloween mites and all.

Cathy said...

This post was poetic.

No. Really. Of course, in the style of Edgar Allan Poe.

Unlike Poe - you - are a HOOT!

Now to the content of this unique post:

(first I have to stop laughing . . . ok. ok . . I'm alright . . . :D

Ahem. Seriously. I just received the ID of a Unicorn caterpillar that the BugGuide experts informed me has been parasatized by the creators of the cocoon just adjacent to it.

Ewwwwwww!

In fact - those parasitizing wasps actually commandeer the behavior of the caterpillar so that it PROTECTS the cocoon.

So we've ruled out Burying Beetles and caterpillars as vehicles for our future incarnations.

I may forgo the opportunity all together.

It's a jungle out there.

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