Glands of burying beetles produce a secretion that kills bacteria by chopping microbial cell walls.

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“Burying beetles lay their eggs on the carcasses of small animals, such as birds and rodents…But a buried carcass is not going to stay fresh for very long, and the bacterial communities that colonise it are likely to threaten the beetle’s developing larvae…So burying beetles use secretions from their anal glands to coat the fur or feathers with substances that guarantee the carcass stays germ-free and fresh for longer…The researchers [from the University of Manchester] extracted secretions from the anal glands of a species of burying beetle called Nicrophorus vespilloides, and showed that when this substance was added to bacterial cells, they were destroyed…[They suspected] they were dealing with a[n] enzyme that ‘chops up microbial cell walls’, investigated and confirmed that the secretions were rich in lysozymes.These are anti-microbial enzymes, and a common component of animals’ immune systems.” (Carpenter 2011:1)

“Offspring of many animals develop in environments in which they are exposed to high densities ofpotentially harmful bacteria. For example, larvae of the carrion beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides face significant challenges from the bacteria they encounter during their development on decomposing vertebrate carcasses. We tested the idea that larvae secrete antimicrobial compounds during development to defend themselves against microbial exposure. We first showed that larval secretion of active antimicrobials peaked during the early stages of development. As has been found previously for parental secretions, larval secretions were active against Gram-positive but not Gram-negative bacteria, indicating that they might be based on lysozyme-like compounds. Finally, consistent with this antibacterial activity, we showed that larval survival declined significantly when challenged with lysozyme-resistant Staphylococcus aureus but not when challenged with a lysozyme-susceptible strain of the same species. These results demonstrate that Nicrophorus larvae are not simply passive recipients of social immunity derivedfrom their parents, but that they are active participants in its production.” (Arce et al. 2013:1)

Insects use antibacterial secretions to protect young

Journal article
Antimicrobial secretions and social immunity in larval burying beetles, Nicrophorus vespilloidesAnimal BehaviourAugust 15, 2013
Andres N. Arce, Per T. Smiseth, Daniel E. Rozen

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Living System/s

A Carrion BeetleNicrophorus vespilloidesSpecies

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