Heterosilpha ramosa (Say 1823)
I found this specimen October, 20, 2018 when I went for a walk and I’m excited to add it to my insect checklist. This is the larva of the beetle Heterosilpha ramosa, also known as the Prairie or Garden Carrion Beetle. It is classified within the family Silphidae, a group of beetles named after their preference for dining on carrion. Both adult and larval forms of carrion beetles typically feed on dead things. There are two subfamilies within the Silphidae. The Silphinae and the Nicrophorinae. Nicrophorus beetles actually have bi-parental care of their young, but that’s for another post!
The strange thing about Heterosilpha ramosa is that it doesn’t quite fit the category it’s been placed into. There isn’t much online either to help with the derivation of its name, but this is what I’ve put together. For the genus: Hetero meaning different or other and Silphid, which comes from the Greek word silphe, “a kind of beetle.” The species name, ramosa means “full of branches” and refers to the beetle’s branched elytral costae or the main veins on the leading edge of an insect wing. I love looking up the name derivations for insects. Curiously, we get ramosa from “Ramos,” a Spanish or Portuguese name derived from the Latin “ramus” to describe someone who lived in a thickly wooded area.
Yes, I digressed a bit! Back to the feeding habits of this creature and its name: Heterosilpha. Instead of only eating carrion, it is a generalist feeder which means it eats lots of different things, other than carrion! The common name, Garden or Prairie Carrion beetle refers to its habit of feeding on plant detritus and sometimes even nibbling the leaves and roots of living plants you may have in the garden. Generally it is believed to do more good than harm in gardens or crop systems since it feeds on snails and other invertebrate pests.
In my search, I also found out that this is yet another understudied creature. It is unfortunate that we know so little about the world that exists under our feet! Here is a photo of an adult Heterosilpha ramosa. For now, I am waiting to see if the larva I found pupates. Check back for updates and be sure to look for interesting bugs next time you’re out on a walk!