NS3977 : A sexton beetle

taken 3 years ago, near to Renton, West Dunbartonshire, Great Britain

A sexton beetle
A sexton beetle
(Nicrophorus vespilloides)

There are about half a dozen British species of the genus Nicrophorus; they are the sexton beetles or burying beetles, so called because they bury small carcasses (such as those of birds or rodents). The markings vary: N. humator (black burying beetle), for example, has entirely black wing-cases (and is larger).

The one shown in this picture had just finished folding away its wings. It was beside a NS3977 : Path through the woods.

A pair of beetles buries a carcass (they eat any maggots that were already on it); the female lays her eggs nearby, and then watches over them. When they hatch, she feeds the larvae with partially-digested food, but they will also feed directly from the carcass.

These beetles can detect the scent of suitable carrion from over a mile away. A few metres from the spot where this beetle was photographed, there was a stinkhorn (a fungus that emulates the smell of rotting meat), which was attracting flies; I cannot say whether the sexton beetle was interested in that scent, but I would guess that it was not: unlike flies, the beetle is looking for a very particular kind of carcass, and not just for rotting meat in general.

An hour or two before taking this picture, I had, elsewhere, noticed a dead shrew on a footpath, and had picked it up to place it out of sight, just off the path; given the beetle's keen sense of smell, and that this was the kind of thing it would have been looking for, it is likely that it could detect traces of its scent from me.

Reference: page 282 of "Field Guide to the Butterflies and Other Insects of Britain" (Reader's Digest, 1984).
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NS3977, 313 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Monday, 22 August, 2016   (more nearby)
Thursday, 1 September, 2016
Geographical Context
Woodland, Forest 
Primary Subject of Photo
Image Buckets ?
Closeup  Life 
Insect (from Tags)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 3954 7797 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:58.0703N 4:34.3494W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 3954 7797
View Direction
Northeast (about 45 degrees)
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