Nicrophorus - a beetle hiding its treasure

The story of a beetle and its microbial friends.


Picture yourself in a European forest, in the middle of the night.

[cricket sounds and owl calls fade in]

You are a burying beetle. Your mate and yourself just found a nice vole, freshly deceased. It is the perfect size to serve as a family meal! You are going to work on burying it, as your name implies. You will dig, and embed the carcass in a chamber where you can care for your larvae. But you’re not only going to put it underground, no! You are also going to prepare it! Remove the hair, shape it, and most importantly put some of your microbiome on it. Through your mouth, a flow of yeast and bacteria are going to colonize the carcass, and compete with the wild flora. They are going to make the carcass more nutritious for your larvae, and change its smell!

Through subtle tweaking, the carcass is going to smell slightly older than it actually is, thanks to your microbial agents. This will be very useful to deter other carrion enjoyers. Hopefully, your mate, your youngs and you can remain undisturbed and enjoy family life!


Duarte, A. et al. (2017) ‘Strategies for managing rival bacterial communities: Lessons from burying beetles’, Journal of Animal Ecology [Preprint]. Edited by S. Cotter. Available at:

Trumbo, S.T. et al. (2021) ‘Burying Beetle Parents Adaptively Manipulate Information Broadcast from a Microbial Community’, The American Naturalist, 197(3), pp. 366–378. Available at: