Endangered Beetles Released in Southwest Missouri
The Nature Conservancy, the Saint Louis Zoo, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Team Up to Restore American Burying Beetles to Missouri
Bringing Back Beetles
Volunteers release American burying beetles at Wah'Kon-Tah Prairie.
American Burying Beetle
These unique beetles became the first endangered species to be reintroduced in Missouri.
Six hundred American burying beetles were brought to Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie in southwest Missouri this week to supplement an existing population that was reintroduced at the site last June. The beetles, which were the first federally endangered species to be reintroduced in Missouri, are doing well at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie. The additional beetles will increase genetic diversity and help to ensure a successful comeback. Plans are in place to bring additional beetles to the site annually for the next three years.
The beetle reintroduction is the result of a successful collaboration among the Saint Louis Zoo, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “The cooperation and openness among all our partners has been key to the success of this effort,” said Bob Merz, Director of the Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation at the Saint Louis Zoo.
The Zoo’s Center breeds the beetles and monitors the reintroduced population. The beetles have already successfully reproduced and overwintered at the site. “It’s very encouraging and rewarding to see these very positive results at such an early stage of the reintroduction,” said Merz. “It shows we chose the right site, and that we’re doing this correctly.”
The USFWS selected Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie, which is primarily owned by The Nature Conservancy, for the reintroduction because the site is large, protected, high-quality grassland habitat. Todd Sampsell, Missouri State Director for The Nature Conservancy, states, “The successful return of the American burying beetle to Missouri soil is a remarkable accomplishment. The Nature Conservancy is proud to be part of an endeavor that brings a piece of our natural heritage back to our prairies.” At 4,040 acres, Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie is the largest protected prairie complex in the Osage Plains, and is co-managed by the Conservancy and MDC.
In 1999, the USFWS listed the American burying beetle as endangered. Reasons for the decline are still being researched; potential causes include habitat loss and fragmentation, light pollution, and reduced availability of carcasses. 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.
American burying beetles are large, red and black beetles, about an inch and a half long. They are unusual for the insect world because both parents stay to care for their young. After a male beetle finds a small animal carcass (usually that of a bird or mammal), it lures a female to the site. The two lie on their backs and move the carcass by using their legs like conveyor belts. The soon-to-be parents bury the carcass, removing any fur, feathers, scales and bones, covering it with antimicrobial, antifungal secretions.
The pair then mates and the female lays eggs on the carcass; a few days later, the larvae emerge. The parents call the larvae by making squeaking noises with their wings and feed them regurgitated meat. Both parents stay to feed the young until the larvae begin to pupate.
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