Carrion Beetles (Silphidae)

Carrion beetles are known for feeding on dead organic matter, mainly carrion. Both the larval and adult stages are known to do this.

Common Beetles Belonging to this Family

  • Black Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus humator)
  • American Carrion Beetle (Necrophila americana)
  • American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus)
  • Margined Carrion Beetle (Nicrophorus marginatus)
  • Tomentose Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus)
  • Roundneck Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus orbicollis)
  • Pustulated Carrion Beetle (Nicrophorus pustulatus)
  • Red-breasted Carrion Beetle (Oiceoptoma thoracicum)

Scientific Classification

These beetles are separated into two subfamilies, divided into several tribes of various genera.

1. Nicrophorinae


  • Eonecrophorus
  • Nicrophorus
  • Ptomascopus

2. Silphinae


  • Diamesus
  • Necrodes


  • Ablattaria
  • Aclypea
  • Dendroxena
  • Heterosilpha
  • Heterotemna
  • Necrophila
  • Oiceoptoma
  • Oxelytrum
  • Phosphuga
  • Ptomaphila
  • Silpha
  • Thanatophilus
  • Allopliosilpha
  • Pliosilpha

Physical Description and Identification


Size: 0.275-1.77 in (0.7-4.5 cm)

Color: Generally black, with yellow markings in some specimens.

Other Characteristic Features: Their bodies are flexible and flat, with elytra that are wider close to the thorax and narrower closer to the abdomen.


The larva of these beetles tends to be black and segmented. They go through three instars for around 10-30 days, feeding on a single source of carrion.


Once they mature, the larvae move away from their food source to pupate. The pupal stage lasts for 14-21 days.


The eggs are deposited inside a suitable carcass, from which they emerge as larvae within 12-48 hours.

Quick Facts

Other names Large carrion beetles, burying beetles, sexton beetles.
Lifespan 4-6 months, though some can live for as long as 12 months
Distribution Cosmopolitan
Habitat Mostly temperate, though some species live in tropical areas
Seasons active March to September
Hosts Dead or decaying animal matter
Diet Detritus, as well as the maggots that gather on them

Identifying the Damage Caused by Them

They are not harmful to humans; instead, by burying carcasses, they help prevent the spread of disease and pests like flies.

Did You Know

  • Several species of carrion beetles have mutualistic relationships with certain organisms. For instance, mites will travel on the back of adult beetles and feed on any fly eggs and larvae already present on the carrion, lowering the beetle’s competition.
  • These beetles play an invaluable role in forensic research, helping investigators determine the estimated time of death.