carrion beetle

Carrion beetles are part of nature’s team of decomposers, shown here carrying mites on its backside.

I love macro photography as you might have noticed.

Sometimes, you get lucky when something you were not expecting is in focus.

That happened this past Saturday when I was photographing pustulated carrion beetles at the Kankakee River State Park.

These beetles are part of nature’s team of decomposers. When there is a carcass on the side of the road or rotting flesh in the woods, you can count on many species of carrion beetles to be on the cleanup crew.

However, I also discovered they provide a rideshare service to other carcass-interested parties.

What you see in the picture is the top side of the beetle with a few visible mite hitchhikers. These mites are probably in the order mesostigmata. Mites cannot fly like their beetle friends but do provide a valuable service to the beetle.

The mites eat the fly maggots and eggs that are competing with the beetles for food. The beetle, knowingly or not, takes on the burden of carrying usually several mites at a time from meal site to meal site for this benefit.

I have seen many carrion beetles this year and almost all of them have had these mites clinging to them. A symbiotic relationship that usually goes unnoticed.

Reach Trevor Edmonson at trevoredmonson@gmail.com.

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