Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Failure in Endangered Species Reintroduction
Midwest Region, June 4, 2013
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Volunteers help reintroduce the American Burying beetle into Wah-kon'tah Prairie in southwest Missouri.
Volunteers help reintroduce the American Burying beetle into Wah-kon'tah Prairie in southwest Missouri. - Photo Credit: Rick Hansen, FWS

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” - Henry Ford


We failed. Well, more precisely, we don't know if we failed or not. As Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, we are encouraged to write about our experiences and share them with the public, in venues such as this one. I was planning to write up my positive experience with our second reintroduction of the endangered American Burying Beetle into southwest Missouri. After all, our first reintroduction went very well, and our beetles not only reproduced but survived a record drought year, and their offspring were found this spring. The event started off well: it was overcast and in the 70s, and the soil was still soft from rain a couple days previous. We had double the number of people from last year show up (surprisingly) to handle rotten quail carcasses and dig holes in the ground. Roughly 60 people came out, most likely drawn in by the aforementioned great weather, but probably also because the St. Louis Zoo had organized such a smooth reintroduction event last year. And things went great this year as well. We dug three hundred 18" holes in 3 sites on a scenic prairie ablaze with wildflowers. Volunteers placed rotten quail in each hole, followed by a male and female beetle. The holes were re-filled, and scavenger-repelling fencing was staked over the holes. We all retired, in good spirits, to a nearby shelter, where we enjoyed food and beverages provided by the Zoo.

The next morning the rains came, about 1.3 inches in a couple hours. The Zoo staff and I drove out to the three sites to see our holes were filled with water, and witnessed seven beetles tunneling out before they were drowned in their underground chambers. There was nothing we could do, so we left. We had planned to monitor the beetles' reproduction by digging up some of the holes and counting the larva after 10 days, so that's what we did. We were devastated. Roughly 80 percent of the brood chambers had been abandoned, and 13 beetles were found dead. Of the brood chambers we dug up, only three had broods in them, and those were small in size and number. Our only consolation was that the majority of beetles had apparently escaped, and that it was possible that the beetles could fly back to the abandoned chambers to re-use the quail carcasses.

Failure is something that happens regularly, and it is human nature to not broadcast it. But failure makes a great teacher, and informs our future decisions. For next year's reintroduction, we will hold two events a couple weeks apart, and put half of the beetles into the ground at each event. This will, of course, double the coordination effort for the supplies, volunteers, beetle transport, etc. However, this extra effort should insure that an unforeseen event like this gully-washer will not impact all of our reintroduced beetles.

Contact Info: Scott Hamilton, 573 234-2132 x 122, scott_hamilton@fws.gov
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