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Bringing Back Beetles

The Conservancy and its partners are returning the American burying beetle to Missouri soil.

On June 5th, 2012, American burying beetles became the first federally endangered species to be reintroduced in Missouri.  Prior to this reintroduction, the beetles hadn't been seen in the state since the 1970s.

The beetles were reintroduced at The Nature Conservancy’s Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie in southwest Missouri. The site was chosen because it's a large area of protected, high-quality grassland habitat.

Over 250 beetles were brought to Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie the first year, and 600 more were brought in 2013. Additional beetles will be brought for three more years to help establish a healthy, genetically diverse population.

American burying beetles are carrion beetles, known for their unusual breeding behavior. After burying and laying eggs on a carcass, both parents stay to care for their young. 

Each year, volunteers gather to return American burying beetles to Missouri soil. The Saint Louis Zoo breeds the beetles and is coordinating the reintroduction. Partner agencies include the Missouri Department of Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Nature Conservancy.

Volunteers dig large holes, reserving a “plug” of soil to later cover the hole, similar to the top of a jack-o’-lantern.

Small side chambers are dug to hold a quail carcass and two beetles.

A quail carcass is placed in each side chamber. The beetles often move the carcass, burying it deeper underground or farther away from the original hole.

A pair of beetles is placed on the carcass. The quail doesn’t smell very good to us, but the beetles immediately seem excited to see it.

The plugs are carefully replaced with the beetles safely in the side chamber.

Chicken wire is staked down over each row of holes to keep away scavengers.  Zoo staff will return to the site throughout the year to monitor the beetles; reintroduced beetles have notches on their wings, so any offspring are easy to identify.

The beetles are doing extremely well at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie, and have already successfully reproduced and overwintered at the site. 

Click to learn more about American burying beetles and how you can help.

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