The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will reintroduce the colorful American burying beetle to a natural area in southwest Missouri as part of a partnership with the St. Louis Zoo to recover this native endangered species. The reintroduction will occur at Wah’kon-tah Prairie, a 3,030-acre site in St. Clair and Cedar counties, Missouri, jointly owned and managed by Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy.
The Service will work with the St. Louis Zoo, which maintains a captive population of American burying beetles, to release pairs of beetles in suitable habitat at the prairie.
As part of the effort, the Service has designated the American burying beetles at Wah-kon-tah Prairie and surrounding counties (Cedar, St. Clair, Bates, Vernon) as a “nonessential experimental” population. This gives managers more flexibility in working with the reintroduced species, and also provides assurance to nearby private landowners that the presence of a protected species will not affect their activities.
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.
The 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 on the American burying beetle and the Service’s activities to recover endangered species, visit www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered