I encountered my first burying beetle, a small black and orange insect, about 10 years ago, when I happened across a dead squirrel at the edge of my yard. Being the curious person that I am, I poked and prodded the squirrel, eventually rolling it over to see what it looked like underneath. Much to my surprise, several small beetles scurried away, including a few with bright orange markings on their backs and yellow hairs on their necks. That evening I went online to search for the identity of the beetles and found what they were—gold-necked burying beetles (Nicrophorus tomentosus). It turned out the gold-necked burying beetle is attracted to and then feeds on dead things.
I soon learned I could find other species of burying beetles in the area. These relatives of my backyard beetles came in different sizes, had distinct habits, and lived in many kinds of habitat. The more I explored this group of beetles, the more I got hooked. Since my original burying beetle encounter, I earned college degrees in wildlife management and conservation biology, including a minor in entomology, the study of insects. I now work as a wildlife biologist studying amphibians, reptiles, and insects—the creepy-crawlies I find fascinating.
There are about 70 species, or kinds, of burying beetle worldwide. About 17 of them can be found in the United States, and at least 11 of those can be found in Minnesota. Wherever an animal has died and begun to rot and stink, these beetles can be found making their home. Let's take a look at why burying beetles are so well suited for living amid death.