If a female burying beetle doesn’t want sex, none of the males around her can get turned on. That’s because she emits pheromones that nip a male's sexual desire in the bud — temporarily, at least.
A report in Nature Communications this week reveals that female burying beetles who are caring for larvae release extremely unsexy chemical signals. When males pick up on theses signals through their antennae, they quickly stop feeling the urge to get it on. But don't feel too bad for the male burying beetles; the pheromone also stops females from producing eggs so, from an evolutionary standpoint, mating would be pretty fruitless. And really there's something quite lovely about this adaptation. Because burying beetles co-parent their offspring, the pheromone helps them focus on what's important: rearing successful youngins.
The beetles drag rodent and bird cadavers underground
There's a lot more to the burying beetle than its sex life, however. Until recently, the species' claim to fame was its habit of dragging tasty rodent and bird cadavers underground (thus the name). Here, for instance, is a burying beetle pulling a dead shrew into its "cave."
Underground, the beetles cut off the rodent's hair or the bird's feathers and spread the carcass with an anti-microbial substance that helps decompose the mammal's flesh, according to this lovely National Geographic video. Beetle eggs near the carcass then get fed pre-chewed, rotting flesh provided by their mothers. Yum.
If we're really going deep on beetle facts, however, I should mention that a number of other species display interesting sexual behaviors and adaptations. The male seed beetle, for instance, has an outrageously long penis that's lined with spines. And you know what the scientists say: the bigger the penis spines, the more numerous the offspring.
An outrageously long penis that's lined with spines
Male death-watch beetles are also pretty quirky. They bang their heads against wooden walls to attract mates. Because of the noise they produce, they've been misbranded as an omen of impending death.
But the saddest beetle sex story is definitely the one about the Australian jewel beetle. Scientists have found that males can die of sun exposure while trying to mate with beer bottles that resemble their female counterparts. Behold: