American Burying Beetle

(Nicrophorus americanus)




Facts about this animal

American burying beetles reach a length of close to 40 mm making them the largest of the 31 species of North American carrion beetles. They are shiny black with bright orange-red bands on their wing-covers. They also have a bright orange-red patch just behind the head and a patch between the eyes.

The American burying beetle is a scavenger, and it helps clean up the environment by eating the dead bodies of animals. The beetles are nocturnal finding their food by smell. When a pair of burying beetles finds a dead animal, they bury it by digging a hole beneath the body and then covering it with earth. They do this to keep the carcass as food for their offspring. They pull off all the fur or feathers, and roll the body into a tight ball. Then, the body is covered with sticky saliva that helps to keep it from rotting and makes it easier for the larvae to eat.

The female beetle lays up to 30 eggs in a tunnel near the carcass. When the eggs hatch into larvae, both the mother and the father stay to feed them with regurgitated food and to protect them from other beetles. This care is unusual since most insects do not care for their offspring. The larvae then burrow into the soil until they metamorphose into adults.

Did you know?
that the largest taxonomic group are the Arthropoda, (including the insects, spiders, millipedes, scorpions, crabs etc.) of which 1'230'000 species are known to science?


Name (Scientific) Nicrophorus americanus
Name (English) American Burying Beetle
Name (German) Amerikanischer Totengräber
Name (Spanish) Escarabajo americano enterrador
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Saint Louis Zoo



Range Canada, USA
Habitat Grassland prairie, scrubland and forest edges
Wild population Unknown, but this species has disappeared from the majority of its former range
Zoo population 113 reported to ISIS (2005)

In the Zoo

American Burying Beetle


How this animal should be transported

For air transport of adult individuals, Container Note 62, for caterpillars Container Note 63, of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Saint Louis Zoo

Why do zoos keep this animal

The American burying beetle is highly endangered all over its range and has become locally extinct in many plaxces. Conservation is therefore the main motivation for zoos to keep the species. Zoos maintain an ex situ reserve population and make beetles available for reintroduction projects. They also engage in in situ conservation, e.g. by searching for remaining populations in the wild.

American burying beetles are also of interest for educational purposes as they may help illustrating the food chain.