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Insect Morticians

January 6th, 2016

Insect Morticians

Have you noticed that you rarely find dead birds in your yard or garden? Out of the many that pass over it each day there must end up being at least one or two that end up littering your yard. What happens to these dead animals? Is it like when you seem to magically lose just one sock? Do they disappear into some supernatural void? Of course not. There is a handy little beetle out there that specializes in interring dead animals carcasses such as birds.

The sexton beetle actually uses the carcasses of small dead animals as a nursery for their offspring. When a female sexton comes across a dead animal, she will either wait for a male to show up so they can mate and produce eggs, which will hatch and feed off the soon-to-be-interred, or they will impregnate themselves with sperm saved from pervious mates. Sometimes, if the animal carcass is large enough, sexton beetles will group together and share the carcass. The sexton beetle then digs a hole beneath the body, into which it puts all the hair and feathers. It then lines this grave with antibacterial and anti-fungal secretions to mask the smell of the rotting animal. After using the extra fur and feathers to pad the burial chamber, they place the body inside and conceal it.

All of this is done of course in the name of reproduction. Just before the eggs hatch the mother cuts a hole in the carcass big enough for the babies to get at all the good meat inside. Surprisingly, sexton beetles are pretty caring parents. They respond to “begging behavior” and, like birds, will feed their offspring even though they are capable of feeding themselves.

What do you think of nature’s morticians?

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