Christmas Bells

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Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Carrion Beetle (Ptomaphila lacrymosa)

Nature invented what we humans call "recycling".
If it were not for things like Carrion Beetles, the world would be full of dead animal bodies.
These guys are an integral part of cleaning up the world.
Before I proceed, I must give you an image warning.
If you are inclined to be a bit squeamish, kindly come back tomorrow.

I have to say that Google Image Search is amazing.
Today I found some large beetles feeding on the carcase of a long-dead Kangaroo.
I assumed, at first, that they were cockroaches, so I immediately thought Dave Rentz will be happy.
But on close examination of the first few images I realised they had beetle antennae. Bad luck, Dave!
(He shall have to console himself  with memories of his recent "Ig Nobel Prize in Biology".)

However, back to these Beetles -  what on earth are they?

I started out looking at "Brisbane Insects and Spiders" - without luck.
I then tried Nick Monaghan's "Lifeunseen"
- which has excellent photos, and is always worth a visit when tracking down an ID of an unfamiliar insect or spider. But I drew a blank there, too.
I then Googled "Carnivorous Beetles", and that told me that many beetle larvae eat flesh, 
Charming! But not what I had seen - adult Beetles feeding on a carcase.
Then I saw mention of Carrion Beetles. 
Refine the search to Carrion Beetles + Australia
First hit was Dave's Garden (a very wide-ranging website) with a picture of a Beetle which had been found feeding on a dead Wombat! 
How Aussie is that? 
It also gave me a name to search >>> Ptomaphila lacrymosa

Next step: Google Image search for that name.

The Atlas of Living Australia came through with the necessary images and descriptions to confirm I had the right ID. 
  • "The Silphidae adults feed in a saprophagous manner, which means they feed on decaying matter. The beetles colonize the carrion during all four stages of decomposition which are fresh, bloated, decay, and dry. The main areas of decomposition for adults are during both the bloated and decaying stages. ... " (ALA)
The ALA had a further link to CSIRO's Entomology Division's "What Bug is That?"
  • "In Ptomaphila the elytra are provided with short, longitudinal ridges and tubercles and completely conceal the abdomen...."
  •  el·y·tron noun, plural -tra
  • one of the pair of hardened forewings of certain insects, as beetles, forming a protective covering for the posterior or flight wings.
  • Also called wing case, wing cover.
Here is the clearest (and cleanest) image.
The lumps (tubercules - as we now know to call them) are clearly obvious.
Carrion Beetle (Ptomaphila lacrymosa)
(Ptomaphila lacrymosa) - on the leg of a Kangaroo carcase
Two Beetles actively feeding (head down) (Ptomaphila lacrymosa)
(Ptomaphila lacrymosa) going for a walk along the bare bone
More Carrion Beetles actively feeding (Ptomaphila lacrymosa)
Close-up of a Carrion Beetle (Ptomaphila lacrymosa)
Nature is not always pretty, but it is all necessary, one way or the other.
Fungi break down trees into material plants can use as soil nutrients. 
Insects play their part in that decomposition process, too.


Miss Eagle said...

I'm unsure ow fascinated I am by these. :/

However, I compost and nurture worms and I find a lot of minute insects at the bottom of these piles - and they always look so busy. What would these be, Denis?

Denis Wilson said...

I wouldn't get too "fascinated" by these guys.
Pretty high chance of spreading diseases, I would think.
Re your compost beetles, there certainly are heaps of things which live in that environment, including things called "Ground Beetles" (large, shiny blue or black). Smaller beetles are also likely.
Point is, I was surprised that these guys were specifically eating meat, whereas your compost bin would be totally vegetable material, which is what we assume Beetles are designed to eat.
But Beetles are the single most divergent group on the planet.
PS Send me any photos of your critters. DJW

wildwings said...

They certainly do look interesting Denis and obviously do a great job of cleaning up decaying meat.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Barbara
The general consensus is that people would rather not know about them.
But if not for these things (and other creatures like maggots, etc,) we would all be surrounded by mountains of dead animals.

Mummaroo said...

Fascinating stuff Denis - in future I shall be checking all roadkill for these as well as joeys! Thanks for all the great information and fantastic photos you share on your site. Kay.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mummaroo
I doubt you will find them on fresh road kill (such as checking for joeys in pouches).
By the way, I always admire the "invisible people" who do those early morning "rounds", checking the overnight road kills. I was out at Canyonleigh the other day and the Wombat corpses all had red spray paint markings on them.
The texts refer to these Beetles as likely to feed on bloated and decaying corpses.
My "find" was certainly in that latter case.
Best wishes to you and your fellow wildlife rescuers.