Savvy beetles cover their snacks in goo so they don't have to share

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Striped burying beetle on leaf
Photo: DEA / A. CALEGARI (Getty Images)

I love watching bugs go about their little bug business, conducting their little commerce with their little pincers, negotiating their little deals with their little, fuzzy legs. So you can imagine my delight when I read this article from the Associated Press about burying beetles and the recent revelation in a new study that they cover their food in goo to repel competitors from trying to snatch a bite.

Scientists discovered that the glorious burying beetle will find a small, dead animal—something like a mouse or a bird—and then dig a hole and bury it. Before they cover their tracks, the beetles pluck the animal’s fur or feathers, then roll the critter into a tidy little ball before covering it in what AP calls “anal and oral secretions.” It’s early, so we’re gonna call that Beetle Goo.


For a while, scientists thought Beetle Goo existed solely to slow decay, allowing the beetles to preserve the dead animal for a spell and feed their offspring. But the AP reports that scientists now believe the goo “hides the scent of the decomposing bounty” while repelling competitors with a distinct odor.

The new research was published in The American Naturalist and led by researcher Stephen Trumbo, who studies animal behavior at the University of Connecticut. “[The secretion] helps them to hide their resource from others,” said Trumbo. “They try to keep everyone away.” It makes sense, since burying beetles have to compete with other critters (opossums, vultures, and other bugs) for the pleasure of feeding on dead animals. I guess we could all learn a thing or two from the tiny, crafty burying beetle. See for yourself: instead of writing your name on your yogurt in the office fridge, try covering it in your anal secretions. Survival of the fittest, right?