Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

October 1997


Published in Great Plains Research 6:2 (Fall 1996). Copyright © 1996 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


Until the 1970s the carrion beetles were appreciated by only a handful of entomologists who knew where to locate the scattered pertinent information buried within the scientific literature. Summaries of the natural history of the only social genus (Nicrophorus) within the family Silphidae by E. O. Wilson (1971) and Milne and Milne (1976) seem to have attracted biologists of diverse interests to investigate these odoriferous beetles. At present, nearly a dozen papers are published yearly on the ecology, behavior, evolution, physiology, conservation, and molecular biology of the silphids. The Carrion Beetles of Nebraska, a handsome and well-written volume, provides the first coverage of the silphids for an individual state. The introductory natural history of Nebraska includes information on vegetation, soils, and climate. The bulk of the text is devoted to silphid taxonomy, species' descriptions and species' natural histories. Unusual for such a volume, Ratcliffe provides sufficient background on methods and current research to allow the intrigued novice to begin collecting animals and undertaking scientific work. Although details on rearing are not included, one can locate them by using the up-to-date and substantial bibliography. Ratcliffe supplies information on how to sex silphids, though the most reliable method I have found for Nicrophorus (close examination of the dorsal aspect of the posterior abdomen) is not mentioned.