The other night as I was going to my room to go to bed I noticed some “Burying Beetles” working on a small dead fish in the path. It had been years since I last saw these fascinating creatures out on Great Gull Island. The American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) is an Endangered Species and I did not know enough about them to know if the one I had encountered were this rare species or a related species. One of the last strongholds of the American Burying Beetle is Block Island, Rhode Island. Block Island is within sight of Great Gull Island, so there was a possibility that these were the endangered species. Burying Beetles are nocturnal creatures. They bury small dead animals on which they lay their eggs so that the young can feed on this carrion after the eggs hatch.
So yesterday afternoon I put out some small dead fish in the path that I had seen the beetles at work the other night. It worked like a charm. Last night as I headed to my room, I found each of the fish I had put out was being worked on by several beetles. I got my camera and took flash pictures of a number of them hoping to identify them today. With the help of the limited reference books we have on the island and the Internet I was able to tell that they were not the endangered American Burying Beetle. I believe they are a closely related species in the same genus, Nicrophorus orbicollis, whose English name is Roundneck Sexton Beetle. The American Burying Beetle is larger and is distinguished by a large orange patch behind the head. Below are a couple of my pictures of the ones on Great Gull working on the small fish I had left for them.