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Tomentose burying beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus)

Tomentose burying beetle

Nicrophorus tomentosus

(Order Coleoptera, Family Silphidae)



Nicrophorus tomentosus (photo by Cristian Beza – Beza)

(Kansas: WSU Ninnescah Biol. Station, 3.5 mi N, 2 mi W Viola, 37°32’08’’N, 97°40’49’’W)



Adult diagnose: Within the genus Nicrophorus, N. tomentosus, the burying beetle, has short elytra, which leaves a few segments of its striated fifth abdominal tergum exposed with the presence of orange splotchy bands on black elytra. N. tomentosus varies from 11.20 to 19.00 mm in length. It is easily distinguished from the other Nicrophorus species by the dense yellow pubescence on its pronotum. The burying beetles have a club antennae use for sensing vertebrate carcasses with specialized olfactory organs. Its flight pattern is similar to that of a bumble bee.

Pronotum and head of N. tomentosus (photo by Sharon Harris, from:

Ventral view of N. tomentosus (photo by Sharon Harris, from:

Natural history: The common name for most of the Nicrophorus beetles (burying beetles) is due to their behavior of burying vertebrate carcasses. The tomentose burying beetle feeds on decaying animal material but unlike the other burying beetles, N. tomentosus does not bury carcasses. What the tomentose burying beetle does instead is a shallow pit in the soil where the carcass will sink and will then cover it with litter. These carcasses are fed upon by a brood of young larvae. Nicrophorus tomentosus is considered a subordinate species of burying beetle that is why it is believe it tends to breed communally. 


Nicrophorus tomentosus is also known to be a mimic of bumble bees in terms of its flight pattern and being diurnal, including its coloration, shape and size. 

Bumblebee mimicry N. tomentosus (from :


Distribution: It is a species with wide distribution range. It has been observed in all of the continental United States of America except in the southeast regions.

Distribution of N. tomentosus (From:

Habitat: Forests, woodlands, shrubland, and sandy prairies are common habitats for the tomentose burying beetle. However these beetles could be found wherever carcasses are found within N. tomentosus’ range of distribution.

Diet: Nicrophorus tomentosus feeds on decaying animal material. Carcasses of small rodents and birds are among their food. Tomentose burying beetles will remove the hair of feathers from the carcasses and spray them with an anal secretion to protect the carcasses from biotic invaders such as fungi and bacteria. The young larvae feed on the regurgitation of the parents in addition of feeding from the carcass.

Nicrophorus tomentosus feeding on squirrel carcass (from:



Bug guide: Species Nicrophorus tomentosus- Tomentose Burying Beetle:

Cirrus Image: Sexton beetle – Nicrophorus tomentosus:




Ratcliffe, B. C. 1996. The Carrion Beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae) of Nebraska. Bulletin of the University of Nebraska State Museum 13: 1 – 100.

Scott, M. P. 1996. Communal breeding in burying beetles. American Scientist 84: 376 – 382.

Scott, M. P. 1998. The ecology and   behavior of burying beetles. Annu. Rev. entomol. 43: 595 – 618.

Wichita State University
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