Down the beetle's hole
Naturalist(s): W.J. Davis and Karen Anthonisen Finch
Date: April 25 2012
Location(s): Sarasota (map)
Field notes
Recently, I discovered a dead Black Racer laying on my neighbor's lawn with the back half of the snake's body stuffed down a narrow hole. Did my neighbor's dog kill the snake while it was leaving its burrow? Not likely. Then there was the fresh mound of dirt accumulating at the entrance of the hole. It appeared as though the cavity was dug by a subterranean creature large enough to eat a meter long snake--perhaps a large carnivorous mole that mistook the dead snake for an earthworm. A few minutes later, the snake twitched, and slowly, millimeter by millimeter, slid down the hole.

    As I watched with a friend, a carrion beetle eventually emerged from beneath the snake. The beetle crawled under the serpent and lifted the corpse before dragging it underground. But wait! It is very difficult to stuff a limp snake into a narrow hole from above. Such a task requires pulling from below, which suggests that the beetle had an accomplice. To find out, I slowly removed the snake to entice all of the beetles out in the open. My experiment failed--only one very active and frustrated beetle showed itself (see photo).

   As their name implies, carrion beetles survive and reproduce by eating dead animals, preferably after burying them. Once covered with dirt, a beetle can safely lay its eggs on a decomposing body, away from pesky flies.