Meet the Beetles!
Beetlemania: Now in Missouri!
On June 5th, 2012, American burying beetles became the first federally endangered species to be reintroduced in Missouri. Hundreds more beetle pairs will be brought to the prairie each year through 2017. Each pair is placed with a carcass and covered with a protective screen to keep out predators. The site is continually monitored to gauge its suitability for the beetles.
The beetles are doing well at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie, and have already successfully reproduced and overwintered at the site.
Even at first glance the American burying beetle seems unique, with its strikingly bold colors and uncommonly large size. What's truly incredible about this endangered species is its extremely unusual behavior.
Child care in the insect world is rare, especially with both parents, but American burying beetles are one of the exceptions. It all begins with a carcass. It isn't a very romantic setting, but to these beetles it's true love!
After they mate, the beetles move the carcass (usually that of a small bird or mammal) to a prime location by laying on their backs and using their legs like conveyor belts. The soon-to-be parents then bury the carcass, removing any fur, feathers, scales, or bones, and covering it with antimicrobial, antifungal secretions.
The female lays eggs on or near the newly buried carcass. A few days later, white worm-like bundles of joy emerge. The beetles call the larvae by making squeaking noises with their wings, and then feed their babies regurgitated meat, much like birds feed their young. Both parents stay to care for their young until the larvae begin to pupate.
Once found in 35 states, the beetles are now found naturally in only seven locations. Prior to this reintroduction, they hadn’t been seen in Missouri since the 1970s. Reasons for the decline are still being researched; potential causes include habitat loss and fragmentation, light pollution, and reduced availability of carcasses. In 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the American burying beetle as endangered.
In an effort to recover this native species, the USFWS proposed a reintroduction of the beetles on the Conservancy's Wah'Kon-Tah Prairie. The Saint Louis Zoo's Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation implemented and is monitoring the reintroduction.
June 24, 2013