Aside from social creatures such as ants and bees, burying beetles are some of the most devoted parents among insects, going to great efforts to make sure their offspring have a good start in life.
Before copulating, a male and a female will find a convenient dead animal – often a small bird or mouse – and bury it, covering it with dirt as well as antibacterial secretions to prevent it rotting. This is to keep it safe from competitors. The prospective parents then dig a hole beneath the carcass – known as a crypt – which they line with fur or feathers stripped from the body.
Next they mate, and the female lays eggs around the crypt. When the larvae hatch, they make their way to a prepared nook in the carcass and begin to feed. In addition to feeding themselves, the larvae are also fed predigested food by both parents. (The mother produces an anti-aphrodisiac pheromone that tells the father to get his mind off mating and into childcare mode.)
After three days or so, the larvae are strong and fat, ready to leave the family home for the surrounding soil where they will pupate into full-grown adult beetles and go in search of a mate and carcass to call their own.
Michael Lucy is a former features editor of Cosmos.
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