Conservation Connection – Understanding decomposer lifeforms

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) – Naturalist Curtis Parsons visits KPLR 11 News at Noon to show us the mysterious world of decomposers.

Q. What are decomposers?
• Decomposers are organisms that help break down dead and decaying matter
• Some decomposers specialize on breaking down plants or animals
• Today we’ll focus on animal decomposers, especially insects

Q. Why are decomposers so important?
• Decomposers are important because they speed up the decomposition process.
• Without decomposers dead plants and animals would litter ecosystems.
• With the help of decomposers a dead animal carcass can disappear to only bones in a matter of days.

Q. What are some Missouri decomposers?
• Predators that scavenge rather than expending energy on active hunting like coyotes, raccoons, and opossums.
• Scavengers like our native turkey vulture, which can smell a carcass from over a mile away.
• Lots of different insects and invertebrates including: flies, beetles, slugs, and a really unique beetle we have called a burying beetle.

Q. What makes a burying beetle unique?
• Burying Beetles are different from other insects in that the males and females care for their young. Most insects lay their eggs and don’t care for their young.
• If burying beetles find a carcass they will fight other beetles for it. Males vs. males and females vs. females.
• The winning pair will then move the carcass to a patch of soft soil, bury it, lay their eggs on it, and when their young hatch they feed them rotten meat.
• They will also kill other insects that try to feed on the carcass.