Who isn’t a little weird? Here at the Center for Biological Diversity, we celebrate peculiarity in every one of its human and animal forms. After all, who’d want to live in a world without weirdness?

American Burying Beetles: A Love Story

In this installment of Save the Weirdos: an alluring insect with some freaky mating fetishes.

American burying beetle courtesy South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

Ah, the romance, as two beautiful, brightly colored beings are drawn together…

…by the smell of a fresh animal carcass.

It’s a pair of American burying beetles, and they’re about to engage in their own version of passion. Let’s set the scene:

First, the male sniffs out a small mammal or bird carcass from up to 2 miles away, using his large, club-like antennae. They’re equipped with chemoreceptors that can basically “smell” death.

The female beetle is soon drawn to him by the pheromones he releases from the tip of his abdomen. She joins him at the carcass, and together, if they’re lucky enough to have the corpse to themselves (or can fight off other beetles), they proceed to rip off its fur or feathers, roll it into a ball, and cover it with their oral and anal fluids.

But there’s more. They then bury the body (ceremoniously, we like to think) using the fur or feathers as lining for their love nest, the carcass’s new crypt. After the beetle couple mates, the female lays her eggs in a tunnel adjacent to the crypt, and when their babies hatch — up to 30 little larvae — they grow larger as they feast on the dead animal their parents have bequeathed to them, tended by both mother and father.

Soon they grow up to be adult burying beetles, with shiny, black and fiery-orange carapaces and orange-tipped antennae — gorgeous insects, eventually ready to claim their own carcasses, meet their own mates, and spawn their own family in a cozy, fur-lined catacomb.

While these beetles’ nesting ritual is a little on the noir side, the creatures are important to the function of the ecosystems in which they live — among nature’s most efficient recyclers, feeding and sheltering their own broods while returning nutrients to the earth.

The American burying beetle’s populations were in dramatic decline throughout most of the 20th century due to a complex list of threats, but today this insect is hailed as an Endangered Species Act success story, having bounced back from just a single known population in 1989 to six native and introduced populations. Unfortunately, this weirdo isn’t safe from extinction yet.

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