American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus Olivier)

Life History and Michigan History

The American burying beetle is a member of the Silphidae family, and is one of the 570 species of silphids living throughout the world. North America's population is composed of 31 species. American burying beetles are master scavengers, cleaning the environment as they bury dead small mammals and various insects for future consumption.

Currently, American burying beetle sightings have occurred in Nebraska, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. It was officially listed as a state and federal endangered species in 1989. No recent sightings have occurred in Michigan.


American burying beetle populations began a decline during the 1920s. Theoretically, its decline is due to several factors. Fragmentation of habitat has increased accessibility for other carrion consumers such as fox, raccoon, small mammals, and some raptors. Thus, the American burying beetle often finds less and less to bury and then eat. Another reasons is the increased lighting in developed areas. This diminishes the abundance of night use insects and curbs another food source for the beetles. Also, certain genetic changes may alter reproduction on some level.


Drawing of American Burying Beetle showing that it is one and a half inches in lengthThis large carrion beetle is an inch and a half in length. Its black glossy body has irregular patches of bright orange, as brilliant as a pumpkin, on the head shield, face, antennae, and on the wing coverings. These colored patches identify it as an American burying beetle, and not one of the more commonly sighted carrion beetles.


If you think you have spotted an American burying beetle, please send the date of the sighting, a description of location, the county, township, and section (if known). Please include the nearest road intersection and draw a map listing North, South, East or West. Include a color photograph if possible. Do not send beetles! This information will assist us in making a correct identification.


Send your sighting information and photograph to: Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division, Natural Heritage Program, PO Box 30180, Lansing MI 48909-7680.

Non-DNR Links

Species Profile (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Nicrophorus americanus (University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology)