Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Burying Beetle feeding on rabbit carcass

A burying beetle feeds on a dead rabbit, which will rot slowly thanks to microbes that the beetle transfers from its gut to the carcass. Credit: Andy Sands/NPL/Getty

Zoology

A beetle’s secret sauce prevents its diet of carrion from liquefying

The burial beetle and its microbiome conspire to prevent cadavers from rotting.

A type of beetle that dines on dead animals enlists its own gut bacteria to keep its food fresh.

Burying beetles stash the cadavers of small animals underground for the beetle larvae to eat. To investigate how the insect prevents its prize from rotting, Shantanu Shukla and Heiko Vogel of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, and their colleagues studied dead mice infested with a common burying-beetle species (Nicrophorus vespilloides), as well as beetle-free mouse cadavers.

After nine days, the beetle-free carcasses “emitted a strong putrefactive odor”, the authors write, and were laced with putrescine, a smelly toxic compound produced when bacteria break down amino acids. But the carcasses tended by beetles were free of odour and putrescine. These carcasses, unlike the control carrion, hosted high levels of bacteria found in the guts of N. vespilloides.

The beetles and their gut bacteria produce antimicrobial substances, which might help to suppress bacteria that decompose carrion, the authors say.

More Research Highlights...

Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty

Economics

Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing

Search

Quick links