American Burying Beetle

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American Burying Beetle Proposed Downlisting to Threatened is available for public comment.
You can find the proposal and how to comment here.

View the list of authorized ABB surveyers

Visit the St. Louis Zoo Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation.

Watch a video about the American Burying Beetle.

Substantial 90-day finding to delist the ABB
Federal Register Notice

Find the current American Burying Beetle Survey Guidelines here.

Read more about the American Burying Beetle listing in the Federal Register here.

Learn more in the ABB Recovery Plan.

American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus)
Status: Endangered
Listed: July 13, 1989

For questions regarding the American Burying Beetle in Arkansas, please contact Melissa Lombardi at melissa_lombardi@fws.gov or 501-513-4488.

Species Facts
The American burying beetle, also known as the giant carrion beetle, is the largest member of its genus in North America at 1.0-1.4 inches (25-36 mm) in length. It is also identifiable by its distinctive pairs of orange-red spots. Adults are fully nocturnal and are usually active only when nighttime temperatures exceed 60F. They are generally active from late April through September.

American burying beetles are scavengers, dependent on carrion for food and reproduction. They bury themselves in the soil to overwinter and upon emerging in the spring males will find a carcass (the larger the better; optimum weight is between 3.5 and 7 ounces). Adults will compete for the carcass, with the largest male and female usually winning. The carcass is then rolled into a ball, moved up to one meter, and buried.  The beetles work as a pair to accomplish this feat. Once the carcass is buried, the female lays an average of 13 eggs on a depression on top of the carcass. One or both parents will remain with the eggs and subsequent larvae; American Burying Beetles are one of the few insects to provide parental care, and larvae will not survive without an adult present.

Habitat Summary
They are found in open woodlands and grasslands, although the formerly broad geographic range of this species suggests that carrion availability is more limiting than vegetation or soil type. Suitable habitat includes well-drained soils, a well-formed detritus layer at the ground surface, relatively level topography, and available carrion. The largest population in Arkansas is located at the Ft. Chaffee Maneuver Training Center near Ft. Smith.

Male on the left, Female on the right
Photo credit: Roger Williams/ Park Zoo

Why is it Endangered?
There are many theories as to why the population is declining, but habitat loss and fragmentation are thought to be a main causes, albeit indirectly. Large-scale habitat fragmentation changed the species composition and lowered the reproductive success of the American burying beetle’s preferred prey species (especially birds, such as the passenger pigeon, prairie chicken, turkey, etc.).

Fragmented habitats also tend to have increased numbers of vertebrate predators and scavengers (crows, raccoons, opossums, etc.), which compete with the burying beetle for carrion resources. Other factors in the declining population could include increased artificial lighting (which decreases populations of nocturnally active insects), fragmentation or destruction of preferred habitat, and reduced genetic variation.

Captive breeding has been successful, and in 2011 an experimental population of captive-bred individuals was established in southwest Missouri. Visit the St. Louis Zoo Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation page here and view a video about the American Burying Beetle.

Currently, construction affecting American burying beetle habitat within the current range must complete a survey before beginning construction. View the current 2015 American Burying Beetle Survey Guidelines.

Learn more in the ABB Recovery Plan and view the implementation status of the plan here.

Range in Arkansas:

Arkansas Field Office
110 S. Amity Road
Suite 300
Conway, AR 72032

501/513 4470 (v)
501/513 4480 (f)

Last Updated: October 17, 2018

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