Being a parent is difficult, and being unprepared for the advent of hungry mouths is not unique to humans. The life of a potential burying beetle parent is difficult since they must battle the environment and other animals in order to acquire a body on which to raise their offspring. Couples of the Nicrophorus genus work as rapidly as possible to bury a dead animal in a crypt, covering it to hide the foul odors emitted by microorganisms that have invaded their prized catch. Scavengers may confront them for the loot if they do not bury it quickly enough.
When up against another couple of prospective parents, the contest for ownership of a decomposing body might encompass everything from rodents to other burying beetles – and it boils down to the biggest beetle wins. If the beetles want to pass on their DNA, they will need to grow proficient at preserving corpses, since after they lay eggs, their offspring will eat the body hidden in the beetles’ basement.
Its little surprise, therefore, that research released in 2021 discovered an intriguing correlation between a couple’s ability to hide their findings and their parenting abilities. The experiment, directed by Derek Sikes, Curator of Insects and Professor of Entomology at the University Of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North, found that beetles that were best at concealing corpses were also better parents. “We’ve discovered that when these beetles manipulate a cadaver, their excretions and secretions assist to hide the scent from their rivals and close relatives who aren’t in this group,” Sikes told Scientific American’s 60 Second Science. “And when we put those out in the wild, burying beetles find them more quickly than control corpses that haven’t been modified.”
“These burying beetles are doing something unique to mask the corpse odor.” The secret to successful parenting in the Nicrophorus genus appears to be perfecting your ability to conceal a body, which is something to consider the next time you find yourself in an incriminating situation. While this intriguing observation for evolutionary biologists, it appears that burying beetles incorporated corpse concealment to their CV a long time ago, since Sikes thinks that these species have been parenting in this manner since the Cretaceous. So do not feel guilty if you are still trying to figure out how to be a decent parent. You have a couple more millennia before a beetle catches up with you.