Are you sitting comfortably. Have you finished supper?
Sexton Beetles or Burying Beetles are euphemistically known as the Undertakers of the insect world. They have an extraordinary ability to locate and bury small vertebrate carcasses for the purposes of feeding and breeding.
However, this gruesome but important “service” gets even more interesting as the photo of a Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus investigator) I took at Bere Marsh Farm today evidence.
Phoresy (or Phoresis) is an association between two organisms, where one travels on the body of another, without being a parasite or causing it any harm. In this case, the hitchhiker are mites which have attached themselves to a beetle, solely for the purpose of travel. The mites gain a free ride without harming the beetle, so the relationship is said to be commensal (commensalism), rather than mutualistic (mutualism), which is when both parties gain a benefit.
Once a beetle arrives at a new carcass the mites disembark. The mites feed and breed alongside the beetles and then the next generation of mites climbs aboard the beetles and fly off to the next cadaver.
By Nick Dobbs, Friendship Development Manager