Burying beetles, Nicrophorus species, are attracted by the odour of recently dead small mammals and birds. Males and females work together to bury the corpse by digging out soil from beneath the dead animal, on which they and their larvae will feed. Soil is then pushed over the dead body until it is covered. Considering where they develop, it is not surprising that adult burying beetles have a foul odour. Some other carrion beetles develop as larvae in carcasses but the adults do not bury them.
Hide beetles are attracted to dead animals after the soft tissues have gone and all that remains are decay-resistant parts, such as dry skin, hair and feathers. The larvae of these beetles often develop in the nests of birds and small mammals, where they will find food in the form of hair or feathers incorporated into the nest material, or animals that died in the nest. The adult beetles can sometimes be seen on flowers where they feed on pollen.
When burying beetles have buried a corpse, they create chambers in the soil nearby and stock them with chewed up flesh on which eggs are laid. Nicrophorus species show a high degree of parental care for their offspring, unusual outside the social insects. Both sexes remain with their eggs, and when they hatch, the adults feed the larvae with pre-digested food from the food store. When the larvae have grown larger, they crawl to the corpse and complete their feeding there. The fully fed larvae then burrow into the soil to pupate.
Hide beetles, such as Dermestes and Attagenus species, are attracted to dry animal remains where they lay their eggs. The larvae feed on the hair, fur, dry skin and feathers of dead birds and mammals. Some species, especially of Anthrenus, have larvae that can also feed on dead insects and spiders. When fully fed, the larvae pupate within their last larval skin. Adult hide beetles mainly emerge in spring-early summer.
Role of carrion beetles in gardens
Beetles and larvae that feed on dead animals help to recycle their remains. Other insects, especially fly larvae, also help in this process. In summer, dead birds and mammals can be reduced to skin and bone in just a few weeks. In dry situations, it will take several years before the hair, feathers and dry skin are eaten away by hide beetle larvae.
Other sources of information
Peacock, E. R. (1993) Handbooks for the Identification of British Insects Vol 5 part
3. Adults and larvae of hide, larder and carpet beetles and their
relatives (Coleoptera:Dermestidae) and of Derodontid beetles