Plants and Animals

Nicrophorus americanus American burying beetle

species photo

Key Characteristics

The American burying beetle is a shiny black beetle with two bright orange marks on each elytra (outer wing coverings) and a large orange mark on the pronotum (dorsal plate behind the head). It is the largest (1-1.4 inches, 2.5-3.5 cm) carrion beetle in North America.

Status and Rank

US Status: LE - Listed Endangered
State Status: X - Presumed extirpated (legally 'threatened' if rediscovered)
Global Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
State Rank: SH - Possibly extirpated


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Alger 1 1916
Arenac 1 1910
Berrien 1 1908
Kalamazoo 2 1961
Livingston 1 1917
Macomb 1 1934
Marquette 1 1916
Menominee 1 1940
Muskegon 1 2017
Oakland 1 1934
Washtenaw 2 1917

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


The American burying beetle formerly occupied a broad range of habitats, ranging from mature hardwood forests to old field shrubland to grassland. It is not found in sites with soils unsuitable to burying carrion such as those with very loose sand, extremely dry soils, or saturated soils.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Maintain proper habitat in mature forests, upland shrubland, and prairies. Competition for carrion from crows, raccoon, fox, opossum, and skunk is high. Reproduction can be enhanced by providing suitable carrion during peak breeding period and protecting from other scavengers. Reasons for massive (99%) decline are unknown but may be linked to diseases, pathogens, and parasites, the local extirpation of top mammalian predators (allowing other scavengers to flourish) as well the extinction of the passenger pigeon, an ideal-sized carrion.

Active Period

Breeding from first week of June to fourth week of July

Flight from fourth week of May to second week of September

Survey Methods

Place small carrion 50-200 grams in weight (large rats to medium-sized birds such as woodcock or pheasants) on the ground attached to 1 m of dental floss to facilitate locating a buried carcass. The carcass should be checked a few hours after dusk for feeding beetles. Pitfall traps can be easily constructed from quart jars buried in the ground to their rims and baited with aged beef kidney (approx. 20 g) placed in a 4 oz. glass jar with a screen mesh lid. A raised cover of bark or shingles should be placed over the jar to deflect rain. Jars should be spaced 25 m apart in a trap line, and traps should be cleared daily, as early as possible to prevent mortality.


Survey Period: From third week of June to fourth week of August

Time of Day: Night
Air Temperature: Above 60 degrees

Pitfall traps

Survey Period: From third week of May to fourth week of September

Time of Day: Night
Air Temperature: Above 60 degrees


Survey References

  • Borror, D.J. and R.E. White. 1970. A Field Guide to the Insects of North America and Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 404pp.
  • Evers, D.C. 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 412pp.
  • Martin, J.E.H. 1977. The Insects and Arachnids of Canada (Part 1): Collecting, preparing, and preserving insects, mites, and spiders. Publication 1643. Biosystematics Research Institute, Ottawa.

Technical References

  • Evers, D.C. 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 412pp.
  • NatureServe. 2005. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 4.5. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available