Nicrophorus vespillo (Linnaeus, 1758)
POLYPHAGA Emery, 1886
STAPHYLINOIDEA Latreille, 1802
NICROPHORINAE Kirby, 1837
Nicrophorus Fabricius, 1775
This widespread Palaearctic species is generally common throughout Europe from Portugal and northern Spain to Italy and Ukraine; it is generally absent from the Balkans and Greece (although it has been recorded from Turkey) but across much of Central Europe it is the commonest member of the genus, to the north it reaches the UK and all the Baltic countries where it has been recorded from the far north of Norway. In the UK it is generally common throughout England and Wales and much more local and scarce in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where it seems to be mostly coastal. Adults have been recorded throughout the year and are active over a long season from early spring until the autumn, peaking in abundance from June to August. There seems to be no particular habitat preference and the species may be found at carrion or decaying organic matter just about anywhere including domestic gardens, parks, woodland, wetlands and salt marshes etc. The biology is typical of the genus; adults meet at host material which they will contest with others as they arrive, and once they have ‘claimed’ their carrion will mate and prepare it for burial by removing any fur or feathers and secreting a preserving fluid across the surface. Great care is taken in preparing the corpse; it may be moved to a more suitable site and then it will be worked into a ball-shape before being buried, from below, to a depth down to 60 cm. The female will then lay eggs in the ground close by, usually with the male in attendance and this close bond will remain until the larvae are fully grown; the pair is strongly dedicated so that should one die the other will take over feeding and looking after the larvae. Larvae move to the carrion where they will be guarded and fed by the adults throughout their development, they grow rapidly and after only a few weeks they move into the soil to pupate. Although mating may occur from early spring, and the life-cycle is rapid, there is only a single generation each year. Various species of mite (mostly Poecilochirus) are almost always present on the beetles, these also develop in carrion and so rely on the beetles for dispersal but they are also beneficial in that they predate small insects and nematodes and so reduce competition for host material, and this symbiosis continues as the new generation of mites will attach to adult beetles as they eclose and will remain in place until new host material is found. The usual host material is small mammals and birds but they have been recorded from all types of carrion as well as decaying fungi and plant material, although only very rarely at dung. During the winter they may be found among decaying fungi and at carrion etc. Adults are diurnal and nocturnal, they fly well and come readily to light and carrion-baited traps, which they are said to be able to detect up to a mile away, and so are easily recorded.
12-22 mm. Entirely black but for the antennal clubs and two transverse bands on each elytron which are orange. Easily identified among our UK species by the combination of mostly pale antennal clubs, golden pubescence along the anterior pronotal margin, the lateral and basal margins being glabrous or nearly so, and curved hind tibiae. Males may be recognized by the widely expanded basal segments on the front tarsi.