Semper Fidelis - Semper Discentes

I Carry On With Carrion

In Coleoptera on March 19, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Okay, so I spent some time earlier this month constructing a half-dozen carrion beetle traps, based on an article in a 2004 issue of The Coleopterists Bulletin (Bedick, Ratcliffe, & Higley, 2004). They weren’t too hard to build, even for a hapless sort, although the edges WERE a little raggedy.Between our trip to Montana and Wyoming last week, and the threat of some more coldish weather later this week, I’d figured I’d wait a while before actually baiting them and setting them out.

However…while driving back from town this morning, I noticed a seemingly-fresh-killed squirrel lying in the middle of a county road. Since the recipe for the traps called for “carrion”, I quickly stopped, backed up to the corpse, and poked it a couple of times. A few years ago, for some reason or another, I’d picked up a dead squirrel from the road, only to have it come frantically alive within the confines of my compact truck, much to my dismay.

After checking this one carefully for signs of life, I picked it out of the road, still warm, just as a car topped the hill and came roaring past. This is a small county, and I have the ONLY bright yellow Jeep Wrangler in the area. I’m pretty sure the guy figured I was picking up something to EAT. This is the Ozarks, after all, and I’m sure I’ll see something in the church bulletin about “bringing some canned goods to help out the Sims family, who are obviously starving”.

The instructions in the above-mentioned article mentioned “aging” the carrion for three or more days. I, however, had already obtained a good handful of meat scraps from the local supermarket, which had been hanging outside, FAR from the house, in a plastic bag for a month. Decided I’d use that to bait one trap, and calculated that one squirrel should provide enough bait for three more. Although I normally use deadfall traps with antifreeze in the bottom, to kill any bugs dumb enough to walk in, this particular article was dealing with a rare and endangered beetle, and the traps were designed to catch them alive. Although I usually have no compunctions about sacrificing a few bugs, and I wasn’t REALLY figuring on catching anything endangered, I decided to use this new design, just in case I DID catch one of the rare ones. Then, I could sell them to Brett Ratcliffe for a hundred bucks each I could make a true and lasting Contribution to Science and not violate any federal laws.


Went out to the woodshed, which is the only sheltered area on the place with a dirt floor and dug two postholes about 15″ deep, one at either end of the shed, which is completely devoid of firewood anyway. This left about 3″ of 4″ PVC pipe extending out of the ground. I used the leftover soil to build a little ramp all the way around, up to the lip of the pipe. This is supposed to keep water out.

Then, I baited the first trap with the “carrion meat”, which was REALLY pungent. You cram the bait down into the 3″ pipe, then drop it into the larger pipe, where the smaller “bait pipe” falls to the bottom of the tube. For the second, third, and fourth traps, I “divided” the roadkill squirrel into thirds and used one-third for each trap. Here’s a “before” picture of the squirrel. Fortunately, the “after” picture didn’t come out.

Next time, I’ll use only HALF a squirrel for each trap, since 1/3 seems to slide around in the bait tube quite a bit.

Once the bait tube hits the bottom, I press a circle of hardware cloth, cut to the inner diameter of the large pipe, into place over the short pipe down in the hole. On top of that, I place a similar circle cut from window screening. The idea is to keep the beetles from actually REACHING the bait, becoming stranded on top of the screening. The hardware cloth gives strength, but the holes are too large to effectively exclude bugs.

Since I’m old, and have killed off a LARGE number of braincells from neglect and Riotous Living, I figured I’d forget where the traps were placed, so I put a brilliant-orange surveyor’s flag next to each one, numbered (as you might guess) from “1” to “4”. Now, I just need to check ’em every morning.


Bedick, J. C., Ratcliffe, B. C., & Higley, L. G. (2004). A New Sampling Protocol for the Endangered American Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus americanus Olivier (Coleoptera: Silphidae). The Coleopterists Bulletin , 58 (1), 57-70.

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