The size and shape of these beetles is wide-ranging (from 4 to 40 mm). Some are consistently black or dark brown, others have red marks on the elytra, but it is uncommon to find very spotted or bright colored ones. Their antennae, rather short, broaden out near the end, or the last articles form a club. The elytra cover all the abdomen or let the last segments visible due to their shortness.
Adults and larvae live generally in vertebrates carcasses, rotten plants or excrement. They are exceptionally predators or phytophagous. Some dig under the carcasses of little animals and bury them (esp. the genus Nicrophorus). The eggs are then laid upon the carcass, in a such way that the larvae that are going to hatch have a food ready to eat, without competition and without desiccation.
Certain species of carrion beetles are well known for the way they care for their progeny.