Introducing the Beetle Sanitation Squad
WHO does not appreciate having someone do clean-up work? Sanitation makes for pleasant, healthful living conditions. Think, then, of a hardworking, efficient sanitation squad that numbers into the countless billions but knows no strikes or labor disputes! This is the beetle sanitation squad. Each member of it is well suited for the work and has good equipment. Long before man even existed on earth, carrion beetles were performing their vital tasks.
Two hundred and thirty different varieties of carrion beetles make up this earth-wide sanitation squad. Most of them and their larvae feed on dead animals. Then their digestive systems change much of what is consumed into chemical combinations that can be assimilated by plants.
The different kinds of carrion beetles vary considerably in size. While some attain a length of almost one and a half inches (3.8 centimeters) other carrion beetles are little more than specks. Average length runs about a half inch (1.3 centimeters).
The bodies and wings of carrion beetles are flat and flexible, enabling them to crawl under dead animals. Also, their larvae are flat. Those beetles that bury dead animals are well equipped with digging claws. Certain carrion beetles are so thorough in their work that scientists use them to clean delicate skeletons.
Meeting a Representative of the Sanitation Squad
By taking a closer look at one member of the beetle sanitation squad, the sexton beetle, a person can get some idea about the stupendous work performed by carrion beetles.
The less than one-inch (2.5-centimeter)-long sexton is black and has wide bandlike orange-yellow blotches on its wing covers. It readily tackles a variety of burying jobs. Working in pairs, sextons usually handle small creatures—dead mice, toads, fish and birds. But they may also take on the burial of rabbits, cats and dogs.
Guided by its keen sense of smell, a sexton flies through the darkness and lands beside the dead body of some small animal. With its feelers, the beetle touches various parts of the carcass and then starts to work. Soon a second sexton, a female, arrives on the scene. Both cooperate in doing the burial work. Driven by instinct, they do not give up even when faced with obstacles.
One experimenter placed a dead mouse up in a low bush. Two sexton beetles climbed the bush and worked the mouse loose from its entanglement. After it dropped to the ground, the beetles immediately began to bury it.
What if an animal is lying in a place that is unsuitable for burial? A dead mouse, for instance, might be at the edge of a paved road. At first the sextons may try to dig into the concrete. But when that proves futile, they will move the dead mouse to a better burial location. They may move a dead animal as much as ten feet (3 meters). How?
Lying on its back, a sexton beetle pushes upward with its strong legs. As the beetle moves farther under the mouse, the corpse begins to rock. Then with a tremendous pedaling motion, the sexton moves the mouse forward, possibly a half inch (1.3 centimeters). This procedure is repeated until the dead animal comes to rest at an appropriate burial site. While the male is on his back pushing up with his legs, the female is busying herself with removing twigs and pebbles that may be in the way.
After having moved the dead mouse to a suitable location for burial, the sextons crawl underneath the corpse and begin digging with their heads and feet. Slowly the dead mouse begins to sink. As it does, loose earth settles on top of the body. When the burial job is completed, the sextons dig a tunnel to provide a place for the female to lay her eggs. Until the eggs hatch, the adults feed on the carcass. Thereafter the adults feed the hatched larvae partly predigested flesh from the dead animal. When the time comes for the larvae to change into adult beetles, the parents make their way to the top and again take wing.
Indeed, carrion beetles constitute a remarkable sanitation squad. Whom should we credit for their vital work? The Creator, Jehovah God, of course. How could blind chance ever have produced the amazing beetle sanitation squad?