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American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus)

Reintroduction in Missouri


An American burying beetle.

On June 5, 2012, American Burying Beetles were reintroduced back into Missouri.


Digging holes where dead quail and American burying beetles will be placed.

Volunteers help dig holes where dead quail and American burying beetles will be placed.



Holes dug for reintroducing American burying beetles.

Holes dug for reintroducing 120 pairs American burying beetles.


Photos by Missouri Department of Conservation (Max Alleger and Bill Graham) and USFWS (Melanie Cota)


Endangered Beetle Reintroduction a Success in Missouri

For the first time in nearly 40 years, federally endangered American burying beetles produced offspring in Missouri in the wild.


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.


This is 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. 


To reintroduce American burying beetles, workers dig holes and place a pair of the orange and black insects inside, 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 they mate and their eggs hatch, the adults feed the young regurgitated remains of the carcass.


In late June, partners checked some of the holes to see if larvae were present and found that more than two-thirds of those pairs had 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.


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Last updated: February 11, 2019