Meet sexton beetle-An insect that buries dead animals


Picture of a sexton beetle.

The less than one-inch (2.5-centimeter)-long sexton is black and has wide bandlike orange-yellow blotches on its wing covers.

It readily tackles a variety of burying jobs.


Burying beetle 



Working in pairs, sextons usually handle small creatures—dead mice, toads, fish and birds.

But they may also take on the burial of rabbits, cats and dogs.

Guided by its keen sense of smell, a sexton flies through the darkness and lands beside the dead body of some small animal.

With its feelers, the beetle touches various parts of the carcass and then starts to work.

Soon a second sexton, a female, arrives on the scene.

Both cooperate in doing the burial work.

Driven by instinct, they do not give up even when faced with obstacles.

One experimenter placed a dead mouse up in a low bush.

Two sexton beetles climbed the bush and worked the mouse loose from its entanglement.

After it dropped to the ground, the beetles immediately began to bury it.


What if an animal is lying on unsuitable place for burial?



 A dead mouse, for instance, might be at the edge of a paved road.

At first the sextons may try to dig into the concrete.

But when that proves futile, they will move the dead mouse to a better burial location.

They may move a dead animal as much as ten feet (3 meters). How?

Lying on its back, a sexton beetle pushes upward with its strong legs.

As the beetle moves farther under the mouse, the corpse begins to rock.

Then with a tremendous pedaling motion, the sexton moves the mouse forward, possibly a half inch (1.3 centimeters).

This procedure is repeated until the dead animal comes to rest at an appropriate burial site.

While the male is on his back pushing up with his legs, the female is busying herself with removing twigs and pebbles that may be in the way.

After having moved the dead mouse to a suitable location for burial, the sextons crawl underneath the corpse and begin digging with their heads and feet.

Slowly the dead mouse begins to sink.

As it does, loose earth settles on top of the body.

When the burial job is completed, the sextons dig a tunnel to provide a place for the female to lay her eggs. Until the eggs hatch, the adults feed on the carcass.

Thereafter the adults feed the hatched larvae partly predigested flesh from the dead animal.

When the time comes for the larvae to change into adult beetles, the parents make their way to the top and again take wing.

Indeed, sexton beetles constitute a remarkable burial squad.