July 27, 2012
Georgia Parham 812-334-4261 x 1203
Endangered Beetle Reintroduction a Success in Missouri
Service biologist Scott Hamilton prepares to reintroduce endangered American burying beetles in Missouri. USFWS photo.
For the first time in nearly 40 years, federally endangered American burying beetles produced offspring in Missouri in the wild, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Adult pairs of beetles were reintroduced in June at Wah’kon-tah Prairie in southern Missouri as part of a cooperative recovery project with the Service, the St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy.
On June 5, 2012, Service personnel and staff from the St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri Department of Conservation, The Nature Conservancy and volunteers reintroduced 240 adult American burying beetles at Wah'kon-tah Prairie, managed jointly by The Nature Conservancy and Missouri Department of Conservation. This is the first-ever establishment of an experimental population of endangered insects in the United States and is also the first reintroduction of an endangered species back into Missouri.
The American burying beetle was designated a federally endangered species in 1989 - the first insect species to be so recognized. Under the Endangered Species Act, plants and animals listed as endangered are at risk of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future.
To reintroduce American burying beetles, workers dig holes and a pair of the orange and black insects is buried inside, along with a dead quail, which becomes a food source for the beetles. Protective chicken wire on top of the holes keeps scavengers such as raccoons from digging up the carcasses. After mating and once their eggs hatch, the adults feed the young the regurgitated remains of the carcass.
In late June, partners checked about one-third of the holes for the presence of larvae, and found that more than two-thirds of those pairs had produced offspring. The larva will emerge from their holes in late summer, to fly off and find food on their own.
These American burying beetles were all raised at the St. Louis Zoo from stock taken from the wild in Arkansas. The zoo will continue to produce more American burying beetles to reintroduce to this area in the following years. Zoo and Service staff will monitor the population in and around the release site to determine the success of the project.
American burying beetles are about 1 to 1.5 inches in length, with striking orange and black bodies. They are named for their habit of laying their eggs in carrion they bury underground, which sustains the larvae once they are hatched.
Historically, the American burying beetle was recorded in 35 states, including 13 counties throughout Missouri, and was most likely found throughout the state. The last documented American burying beetle in Missouri was collected from Newton County (southwest Missouri) in the mid-1970s. Monitoring for existing American burying beetle populations has been ongoing in Missouri since 1991, but none has been found. The reasons for the dramatic decline of this species are still unknown.
For more information about the American burying beetle and other endangered species, go to http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/ambb/mo2012release.html.
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