Friday, September 27, 2013

black burying beetle ~ 09/27/13 ~ Rocky Creek

Nicrophorus nigrita carrying Poecilochirus sp.

This sexton beetle, without the typical Halloween markings, was by far my favorite find. I love its bright orange antennal clubs. And, it brought hitchhiking friends to the blacklight party. I played around with the camera flash and a handheld flashlight. I'm pleased with the lighting results. The mites weren't too keen being in the spotlight and would crawl underneath the beetle if lit for too long. Despite the tall tale or two I told while camping, these mites do not feed on the beetle. Finding information online proved to be challenging. The Hilton Pond Center has a nice article on phoretic mites and carrion beetles in general.

ps - Graeme, I'm waiting for a good carrion/carry-on pun.


Imperfect and Tense said...

That newly-found macro function is being put to excellent use, Katie.

I must admit to being a little surprised that the post subtitle wasn't Carrion Camping, or are you suggesting (correctly) that I'm a bit of a wayward son?

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Ya, I couldn't believe the mites came out so clearly and with only blacklight and a small flashlight. Hmm, can I start ranking your puns from 1-10, with 10 being fantastic? As Andy knows, I'm a tough scorer.

Imperfect and Tense said...

A tougher scorer than Our Lass? My cup punneth over.

Those orange tips to the antennae are intriguing. Would they attract a predator that was big enough to tackle the mites, but small enough to not trouble the beetle?

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Ha, I could hear the sarcasm.

Hmm, I don't think so about attracting mite predators, although supposedly the antennae are excellent at finding carcases. The mites parasitize fly larvae. Read the very brief Wikipedia article:

Imperfect and Tense said...

I'll see your "Hmm" and raise you a puzzled frown.

I'm sure the antennae are absolutely brilliant at finding carcasses, but they wouldn't necessarily need to be orange for that.

There must be some advantage to be gained, however small, as Nature hates waste.

The obvious option is courtship, where a strong colour would demonstrate a vigorous and healthy individual capable of passing on their genes. But I was struck by the size match between the clubbed ends of the antennae and the mites. Probably just coincidence then.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Oh, I don't know, Graeme. I've long held the belief (may be wrong) that many times genes for color also tag along with genes for functional uses. We just don't know enough about various insect senses, yet.

I did a quick search for hypothesized color uses. There's only 2 that come up: mating attraction and predator warning.

As purely my speculation, it could be the antennae attract the mites (not mite predators) to climb onto the beetle. The mites parasitize competitors of the beetle. Win, win.