NATURE'S CLEAN-UP CREW: The Burying Beetles by Lotus J. & Margery Milne Milne

NATURE'S CLEAN-UP CREW: The Burying Beetles

Email this review


The Milnes' introduction to this interesting creature might have youngsters scurrying about for small animals as bait, as some of the observers cited here have done. The first chapter-title, ""Where Do All the Mice and Sparrows Go?,"" is bait itself; and the chapter contains an attention-holding first-hand account of a burying beetle spotted by a young friend of the Milnes' in the act of ""carrying away a dead mouse."" The authors watched as the beetle, on its back under the mouse, used its strong legs like levers to lift and move the mouse--at a rate of half an inch in four minutes, when not slowed down by clumps of grass. A second beetle turned in to help, and by midnight they reached soft ground and began to dig the burial trench, a three-hour process. Only then, with the day's work done and their catch safe from competitors, would they mate in their new underground tunnel, produce a family there, and feed the young a partly digested pablum prepared from the embalmed mouse. What's left of the mouse, usually at least two-thirds of the body, will decompose slowly and contribute important nourishment to nearby plants. The Milnes tell of other observations since Fabre, who wasn't believed at the time, and of one large species of burying beetle which fed on dead fish and has not been seen since 1974, a casualty of human sanitation and gull proliferation. There's a short chapter on ""Hitching Helpers,"" the tiny spider mites that live on the beetles' bodies, providing mutually beneficial service by feeding on the eggs laid by flies on the food animals' bodies, thus saving the mouse or bird for the beetles' young. Add the ecology awareness implicit in the book's title, and you have a small book with a variety of attractions.

Pub Date: May 31st, 1982
Publisher: Dodd, Mead