Any parent can tell you that there is nothing easy about raising children, and this happens to be true for many insects as well. Most insects are polygamous, and males typically do not invest much energy into raising their offspring. Most female insects, on the other hand, will tend to their offspring to some degree. Burying beetles have an interesting, and perhaps a disgusting approach toward parenting that involves rotting animal carcasses, vomit and murder. As repulsive as this beetle species parenting practices may seem to humans, females burying beetles happen to be dedicated mothers. In fact, in order to tend to their offspring without interruption, the females produce mind altering pheromones that repel frisky males that are looking to mate.
In case you do not already know, pheromones are chemical signals that are physiologically produced by organisms and emitted into the environment in order to unconsciously influence the social behavior of others. Most of the time, pheromones are secreted in order to facilitate mating behaviors; but in the case of female burying beetles, pheromones are secreted in order to prevent mating behaviors in males. Mothering is a hard job, and the last thing female beetles need is to be pestered by promiscuous males that are still looking to reproduce. This beetle’s mating ritual begins with a deadly war over putrid meat.
Once burying beetles locate a rotting animal carcass, they swarm over the carcass and battle other burying beetles over who gets to feast. After many deaths, the remaining beetles begin to feast and constantly mate on the animal carcass. The mating continues until the eggs hatch into larvae; and once this occurs, the females abandon mating in favor of mothering. However, the males are not done mating, and sometimes they can become violent in their desire to mate. Due to this threat to their survival, female burying beetles secrete pheromones that alter a male’s sexual behavior, causing them to move onto another mate. This survival strategy works in favor of the entire burying beetle species.
Have you ever heard of any other insect species that evolved to use pheromones in an unconventional manner?