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I THOUGHT this was the "Nicrophorus tomentosus" or "American Burying Beetle." Some websites refer to it as the "Carrion Beetle - Nicrophorus orbicollis" or the "Sexton Beetle."
Then Hayley Dikeman told me this:
Thanks for contacting the Service, we are always glad to for the public to be interested in endangered species, especially insects.
I have viewed your photos of the Nicrophorus aka burying beetle species on your website. The species is diffinetely a Nicrophorus species; however, it is not Nicrophorus americanus aka the American burying beetle. It looks like N. orbicolus but I am not sure what species of Nicrophorus are present in northern Alberta, Canada, so I don't want to speculate and some of the species look very similar. The distiquishing characteristic in N. americanus is the large, red spot on the pronotum (the middle body segment). The pictures on you website do not have this feature.
Thanks again for your interest and keep your eyes open for the American burying beetle. We would love to find it near you.
Fish and Wildlife Biologist
US Fish and Wildlife Service
These critters love carrion and will even bury a dead mouse. Their lifestyle is really incredible. There is a lot more info on this one at http://www.insectpod.com/2007/11/07/carrion-beetle-mites/. Here are a few more; note the parasites ON the beetles.
Another couple of neat things I found: if you dig down to where they have their buried prize, e.g. a dead mouse, they will hurry and disappear into "escape tunnels" beneath that mouse. Plus, if you catch one and play with it, trying to take pictures, they will "play 'possum" pretending to be dead.
I had taken the dead mice out of the mouse traps, and laid them on a big rock for birds etc to help themselves. When the mice were gone, I thought a bird had done that. Not so. I found that these critters had pushed the dead mice off the rock, and had buried them into the sod beside it; no easy chore; the sod was solid weed and roots.
More info about the American Burying Beetle at http://www-museum.unl.edu/research/entomology/endanger.htm.