Stephen Trumbo

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Professor (Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) ResearchGate [1] Google Scholar [2]

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Welcome to the homepage of Stephen Trumbo. I am interested in the integration of ecological, physiological and evolutionary approaches to animal behavior. Our primary experimental organisms (burying beetles) are being used for studies of chemical ecology, parental care, hormones and community ecology. Student projects at the Waterbury campus are primarily geared to undergraduates, although collaboration with graduate students from other campuses also has been possible. Current research projects can be found below.

Research Projects

Carrion Ecology

Carrion-frequenting beetles come to carcasses at particular stages of decomposition (ecological succession) attracted by cues from microbes (semiochemicals). We are investigating whether the successional pattern can be explained by the changing profile of microbially-derived cues and whether the presence of microbes enhances or inhibits the use of carrion by invertebrate scavengers. We are intrigued by the roles of two sulfur-based compounds that have received limited study to date: methyl thiocyanate, which helps burying beetles find a fresh carcass, and methyl thiolacetate, which enhances the attractiveness of dimethyl trisulfide for beetles seeking a carcass in active decay.

Juvenile hormone

Parent regurgitating to larvae
Juvenile hormone (JH) has numerous physiological and behavioral effects in larval and adult insects. In burying beetles, high levels of JH are correlated with periods of intense parental activity. Manipulation of JH levels, however, seems to have minimal effects on care-giving. In collaboration with Dr. Claudia Rauter (University of Nebraska-Omaha), we are broadening the study of JH to include JH effects on metabolic rates, which are known to vary predictably during the parental cycle.

Microbiology of carcass preparation

Gram stain of anal secretion
Paula Philbrick
Burying beetles are thought to control the decomposition of a small carcass by burying, removing hair or feathers, rounding, and applying antimicrobial anal and oral secretions. These secretions, however, are loaded with their own particular microbial community that will proliferate once on the carcass. Working with Dr. Paula Philbrick (UConn-Waterbury) we are investigating how burying beetles manipulate the microbial community to their advantage.

Parental care

Biparental care
Biparental care is increasingly viewed as a conflict. On the other hand, there is much attention to how cooperation can evolve among individuals in groups, particularly in the social insects. We feel that it will be instructive to view these two situations from a common perspective: biparental care as a potentially cooperative effort of two unrelated individuals in which both individuals benefit from greater group productivity (more offspring) while attempting to minimize costs by manipulating the partner to provide more care. As in social insects, specialization may promote stable groups because a deserted individual will not be able to perform nonspecialist tasks as efficiently as its partner.

Nicrophorus pustulatus as a parasitoid of snakes

N. pustulatus male releasing pheromone from a snake egg
Derek Sikes collecting Nicrophorus on a badger carcass in China
N. pustulatus has been an enigmatic species of burying beetle because it was never found breeding on a small carcass. Drs. Gabriel Blouin-Demers and Patrick Weatherhead (University of Illinois-Urbana) found N. pustulatus adults and larvae in the nests of the black rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta). Working in our lab, Garrison Smith (M.S., University of Arizona) determined that this species is well adapted to exploiting reptile eggs using many of the same behaviors that congeners use when exploiting carcasses (see September, 2009 issue of Natural History). The closest phylogenetic relatives of N. pustulatus (determined by Derek Sikes, University of Alaska-Fairbanks Museum) have not been studied so it is unknown whether additional nicrophorine species act as parasitoids of reptiles. The different sets of volatile cues that bring N. pustulatus to snake eggs rather than to a small carcass for breeding are not yet known, but are essential to understanding this dramatic host shift.



Charabidze, D., Trumbo, S.T., Grzywacz, A., Costa, J.T., Benbow, M.E., Barton, P.S. & Matuszewski, S, 2021. Convergence of social strategies in carrion breeding insects. "Bioscience" 71: 1028-1037.

Trumbo, S.T. 2021. Beetle parents manipulate information broadcast from bacteria in a rotting corpse. The Conversation January 26, 2021.

Trumbo, S.T. & Klassen, J. 2020. Editorial overview: hidden players: microbes reshape the insect niche. Current Opinion in Insect Science 39: vi-ix.

Trumbo, S.T. 2019. The physiology of insect families: A door to the study of social evolution. Advances in Insect Physiology 56: 203-250. download:

Machado, G. & Trumbo, S.T. 2018. Parental care. In: Insect Behavior: From Mechanisms to Ecological and Evolutionary Consequences (eds., Cordoba-Aguilar, A., Gonzalez-Tokman, D. & Gonzalez-Santoyo, I.), pp. 203-218. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Trumbo, S.T. 2018. Juvenile hormone and parental care in insects: implications for the role of juvenile hormone in the evolution of sociality. Current Opinion in Insect Science 28:13-18.

Trumbo, S.T. 2013. Maternal care, iteroparity and the evolution of social behavior: a critique of the semelparity hypothesis. Evolutionary Biology 40:613-626. DOI: 10.1007/s11692-013-9237-4. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 2012. Patterns of parental care in invertebrates. In: The Evolution of Parental Care (eds., Royle, N.J., Smiseth, P.T., Kölliker, M), pp.81-100. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 2007. Can the challenge hypothesis be applied to insects? Hormones and Behavior 51: 281-285. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 2002. Hormonal regulation of parental behavior in insects. In: Hormones, Brain and Behavior, Volume 3 (eds., Pfaff, D.W., Arnold, A.P., Etgen, A.M., Fahrbach, S.E., Moss, R.L., Rubin, R.R.), pp. 115-139. Academic Press, New York. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1999. Using integrative biology to explore constraints on evolution. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 14: 5-6. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1997. Juvenile hormone-mediated reproduction in burying beetles: from behavior to physiology. Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology 35: 479-490. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1996. Parental care in invertebrates. Advances in the Study of Behavior 25: 3-51. Pdficon small.gif


Trumbo, S.T. 2023. Moving the corpse to hide the evidence: horizontal as well as vertical movement is important when burying beetles cache a carcass. "Journal of Insect Behavior" (in press).

Trumbo, S.T. 2022. Why do males stay in biparental burying beetles? "Behaviour" 159: 1301-1318.

Trumbo, S.T. & Newton, A.F. 2022. Microbial volatiles and succession of beetles on small carrion. "Ecological Entomology" 47: 759-769.

Trumbo, S.T. 2022. Contrasting sex roles in two species with stable biparental care. "Ethology" 128: 622-631.

Trumbo, S.T. & Sikes, D.S. 2021. Resource concealment and the evolution of parental care in burying beetles. "Journal of Zoology"


Trumbo, S.T., Philbrick, P.K.B., Stokl, J. & Steiger, S. 2021. Burying beetles adaptively manipulate information broadcast from a microbial community. The American Naturalist 197: 366-378.

Trumbo, S.T. & Dicapua, J.A. III. 2021. A synergism between dimethyl trisulfide and methyl thiolacetate in attracting carrion-frequenting beetles demonstrated by use of a chemically-supplemented minimal trap. Chemoecology 31:79-87.

Trumbo, S.T. & Steiger, S. 2020. Finding a fresh carcass: Bacterially-derived volatiles and burying beetle search success. Chemoecology 30: 287-296.

Capodeanu-Nagler, A., Madlen, A.P., Trumbo, S.T., Vogel, H., Eggert, A.-K., Sakaluk, S.K. & Steiger, S. 2018. Offspring dependence on parental care and the role of parental transfer of oral fluids in burying beetles. Frontiers in Zoology 15: 33.

Trumbo, S.T. 2017. Feeding upon and preserving a carcass: the function of prehatch parental care in a burying beetle. Animal Behaviour 130:241-249.

Trumbo, S.T., Sikes, D.S. & Philbrick, P.K.B. 2016. Parental care and competition with microbes in carrion beetles: a study of ecological adaptation. Animal Behaviour 118: 47-54.

Sikes, D.S., Trumbo, S.T. & Peck, S.B. 2016. Cryptic diversity in the New World burying beetle fauna: Nicrophorus hebes Kirby, 1837; new status as a resurrected name (Coleoptera: Silphidae: Nicrophorinae). Arthropod Systematics and Phylogeny 74:299-309.

Trumbo, S.T. 2016. Carcass age and reproductive costs for Nicrophorus orbicollis. Environmental Entomology 45: 1178-1183.

Trumbo, S.T. 2016. The fate of mouse carcasses in a northern woodland. Ecological Entomology 41: 737-740.

Trumbo, S.T. & Xhihani, E. 2015. Mass-size relationships, starvation and recovery in an engorging feeder. Physiological Entomology 40: 257-263.

Trumbo, S.T. & Xhihani, E. 2015. Influences of parental care and food deprivation on regulation of body mass in a burying beetle. Ethology 121: 985-993.

Trumbo, S.T. and Rauter, C.M. 2014. Juvenile hormone, metabolic rate, body mass and longevity costs in parenting burying beetles. Animal Behaviour 92: 203-211.

Trumbo, S.T. 2012. Contest behavior and other reproductive efforts in aging breeders: a test of residual reproductive value and state-dependent models. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 66: 1511-1518. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 2009. Age-related reproductive performance in the parental burying beetle, Nicrophorus orbicollis. Behavioral Ecology 20: 951-956. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 2009. Naturalist at Large: From Gravedigger to Assassin. Natural History September 24-25. Pdficon small.gif

Sikes, D.S., Vamosi, S.M., Trumbo, S.T., Ricketts, M. and Venables, C. 2008. Molecular systematics and biogeography of Nicrophorus in part - the investigator species group (Coleoptera: Silphidae) using mixture model MCMC. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 48: 646-666. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Robinson, G.E. 2008. Social and nonsocial stimuli and juvenile hormone titer in a male burying beetle, Nicrophorus orbicollis. Journal of Insect Physiology 54: 630-635. Pdficon small.gif

Smith, G., Trumbo, S.T., Sikes, D.S., Scott, M.P. & Smith, R.L. 2007. Host shift by the burying beetle, Nicrophorus pustulatus, a parasitoid of snake eggs. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 20: 2389-2399. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 2007. Defending young biparentally: female risk-taking with and without a male in the burying beetle, Nicrophorus pustulatus. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61: 1717-1723. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Valletta, R.C. 2007. The costs of confronting infanticidal intruders in a burying beetle. Ethology 113: 386-393. Pdficon small.gif

Sikes, D.S., Madge, R.B. & Trumbo, S.T. 2006. Revision of Nicrophorus in part: new species and inferred phylogeny of the nepalensis-group based on evidence from morphology and mitochondrial DNA (Coleoptera: Silphidae: Nicrophorinae). Invertebrate Systematics 20: 305-366. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 2006. Infanticide, sexual selection and task specialization in a biparental burying beetle. Animal Behaviour 72: 1159-1167. Pdficon small.gif

Suzuki, S., Nagano, M. & Trumbo, S.T. 2005. Intrasexual competition and mating behavior in Ptomascopus morio (Coleoptera: Silphidae: Nicrophorinae). Journal of Insect Behavior 18: 233-242. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Robinson, G.E. 2004. Nutrition, hormones and life history in burying beetles. Journal of Insect Physiology 50: 383-391. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Bloch, P.L. 2002. Competition between Nicrophorus orbicollis and Nicrophorus defodiens: resource locating efficiency and temporal partitioning. Northeastern Naturalist 9: 13-26. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T., Kon, M. & Sikes, D.S. 2001. The reproductive biology of Ptomascopus morio, a brood parasite of Nicrophorus . Journal of Zoology, London 255: 543-560. Pdficon small.gif

Scott. M.P., Trumbo, S.T., Neese, P.A., Bailey, W.D. & Roe, R.M. 2001. Changes in biosynthesis and degradation of juvenile hormone during breeding by burying beetles: a reproductive or social role? Journal of Insect Physiology 47: 295-302. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Bloch, P.L. 2000. Habitat fragmentation and burying beetle (Coleoptera: Silphidae) communities. Journal of Insect Conservation 4: 245-252 . Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Sikes, D.S. 2000. Sexual selection and leg morphology in Nicrophorus orbicollis and Ptomascopus morio. Entomological Science 3: 585-590. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Thomas, S. 1998. Burying beetles of the Apostle Islands, Wisconsin: species diversity, population density and body size. Great Lakes Entomologist 31: 85-95. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T., Huang, Z-Y. & Robinson, G.E. 1997. Division of labor between undertaker specialists and other middle-age honey bees. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 41: 151-163. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Robinson, G.E. 1997. Learning and task interference by undertaking specialists in honey bee colonies. Ethology 103: 966-975. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T., Borst, D.W. & Robinson, G.E. 1995. Rapid elevation of JH titre during behavioural assessment of the breeding resource by the burying beetle Nicrophorus orbicollis. Journal of Insect Physiology 41: 535-543. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Fernandez, A.G. 1995. Regulation of brood size by male parents and cues employed to assess resource size by burying beetles. Ethology Ecology & Evolution 7: 313-322. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1995. Nesting failure in burying beetles and the origin of communal associations. Evolutionary Ecology 9: 125-130. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Fiore, A.J. 1994. Interspecific competition and the evolution of communal breeding in burying beetles. American Midland Naturalist 131: 169-174. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1994. Interspecific competition, brood parasitism, and the evolution of biparental cooperation in burying beetles. Oikos 69: 241-249. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Eggert, A.-K. 1994. Beyond monogamy: territory quality influences sexual advertisement in male burying beetles. Animal Behaviour 48: 1043-1047. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Wilson, D.S. 1993. Brood discrimination, nestmate discrimination and determinants of social behavior in facultatively quasisocial beetles (Nicrophorus spp.). Behavioral Ecology 4: 332-339. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1992. Monogamy to communal breeding: exploitation of a broad resource base in burying beetles (Silphidae: Nicrophorus). Ecological Entomology 17: 289-297. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1991. Reproductive benefits and the duration of paternal care in a biparental burying beetle, Necrophorus orbicollis. Behaviour 117: 82-105. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. & Fiore, A.J. 1991. A genetic marker for investigating paternity and maternity in the burying beetle Nicrophorus orbicollis (Coleoptera: Silphidae) . Journal of the New York Entomological Society 99: 637-642. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1990. Interference competition among burying beetles (Silphidae, Nicrophorus). Ecological Entomology 15: 347-355. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1990. Reproductive benefits of infanticide in a biparental burying beetle, Nicrophorus orbicollis. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 27: 269-273. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1990. Reproductive success, phenology and biogeography of burying beetles (Silphidae, Nicrophorus). American Midland Naturalist 124: 1-11. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1990. Regulation of brood size in a burying beetle, Nicrophorus tomentosus (Silphidae). Journal of Insect Behavior 3: 491-500. Pdficon small.gif


Trumbo, S.T., Smith, G., Sikes, D.S. 2005. Number vs. body size of offspring in biparental burying beetles. In: Learning the Skills of Research: Animal Behavior Exercises in the Laboratory and Field (eds., Jakob, E.M. & Hodge, M.). Compact Disc. Sinauer, New York (2nd edition, 2009).

Trumbo, S.T. 2000. Introducing students to the genetic information age. The American Biology Teacher 62: 259-261. Pdficon small.gif

Trumbo, S.T. 1996. The role of conflict in breeding systems: burying beetles as experimental organisms. The American Biology Teacher 58: 118-121. Pdficon small.gif

Images of burying beetles

All images of beetles on this webpage may be used for noncommercial educational purposes. Click on thumbnail for higher resolution image.

Video of burying beetles

From Our Lab: Video from our lab may be used for noncommercial educational purposes.

Burying beetles preparing a mouse carcass

Parental care and brood reduction in Nicrophorus orbicollis

Nicrophorus pustulatus exploiting a snake egg

Infanticidal takeover of a carcass

Other Video:

National Geographic Wild

Theatrical view of burying beetles

National Geographic view of burying beetles

American Burying Beetle - Saint Louis Zoo

Tracking the American Burying Beetle - Saint Louis Zoo

Time lapse video of the burial

Websites & Links

Sikes, D. S., S. T. Trumbo, S. B. Peck. 1999. Nicrophorus Central A website developed by Derek Sikes for all things nicrophorine

Sikes, D. S., S. T. Trumbo, S. B. Peck. 2005. Silphidae node on the Tree of Life Created by Derek Sikes

Derek Sikes

BugGuide of Nicrophorus Iowa State University Entomology

Hoback, W.W., Snethen, D.G., Brust, M.L.

Carrion Beetles of Nebraska developed at the University of Nebraska at Kearney

Contact Information

Office: Waterbury 307 / TLS 83
Voice: (203) 236-9878
Fax: (203) 236-9805

Mailing address (1):
Department of EEB
99 E. Main St.
Waterbury, CT 06702

Mailing address (2):
Department of EEB
75 N. Eagleville Road, U-3043
Storrs, CT 06269