Bringing Back Beetles

Restoring Beetles

Find out how the Conservancy and its partners are bringing the American burying beetle back to Missouri soil.

The reintroduced beetles successfully reproduced at Wah'Kon-Tah Prairie!

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.

Burying Beetles on the Decline

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. 

Quick Facts about American Burying Beetles:
  • Average 1" - 1.5" in length
  • Receptors on antennae can detect a carcass from up to two miles away within an hour of the animal's death
  • Most active at night
  • Males have a rectangular spot on their heads; females have a triangular spot
  • Strong fliers
  • Can move and bury carcasses up to 200 times their own body weight
  • Medical scientists are investigating the potential medical uses of burying beetle secretions



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