Sunday, 7 July 2013

A Burying Beetle

Walking down Banbury Lane earlier today I saw the corpse of a thrush on the footpath. Not wishing to handle it, yet wanting to check if the bird had been ringed, I turned it over with my foot and was surprised to see a beetle come lumbering out. Fortunately I had a collecting tube with me and was able to catch it. (I also had with me a 'pooter' - a device for sucking up insects, working like a flexible drinking straw - but I was not prepared to use it for an insect that had been in contact with carrion.)

The beetle proved to be Thanatophilus rugosus. It does not appear to have a common name but is a member of the Silphidae, generally known as Burying Beetles.

T.rugosus is not the prettiest if beetles although some of its close relatives have striking red and black coloration. However, pretty or not, these beetles - the sextons of their world - do an important job of clearing up corpses. They work with great determination and a few years ago, on the shore of Pitsford Reservoir, I found a pair of Burying Beetles making a good job of burying the body of quite a large gull. 

Today's beetle would have been frustrated had it attempted to bury the thrush as it was on tarmac. A crow or magpie may feed on it instead; nothing goes to waste in nature.

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