What You Can See on May 15

From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Gaudy Undertakers In spring our largest carrion-eating insect, the inch-and-a-half-long, black-and-orange American burying beetle, emerges from the earth, where it has spent the winter as a pupa, and starts scanning the countryside with antennae that can detect decaying flesh a mile away. A male will fly to a carcass at night, then emit powerful pheromones that attract females. Lying on its back and using its legs like a conveyer belt, a beetle can move a creature 200 times its weight. Working together, a mated pair buries the carcass, clips off fur or feathers, and injects it with preservatives. This done, the female excavates a nearby nursery in which she lays 10 to 30 eggs. Both adults attend the larvae, which rear up and beg for food, stroking their parents' jaws like wolf pups and thereby inducing them to regurgitate. Burying beetles, federally listed as endangered and benefiting from an aggressive recovery program, used to occur in at least 35 states but now are restricted to parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Their decline may be linked to extinction of prime food sources -- the heath hen along the Atlantic coastal plain and elsewhere the passenger pigeon, thought to have been more numerous than all other North American birds combined. Currently they’re being depressed by a proliferation of competing scavengers such as skunks, raccoons and opossums.