Endangered Species
4:30 am
Mon June 3, 2013

Saint Louis Zoo Continues Efforts To Restore Endangered Beetle

American burying beetles eat carrion. When they are ready to mate, they find a small dead animal and bury it in an underground nest to feed their young.
Credit Dan Kirk/Saint Louis Zoo

For a second year, the St. Louis Zoo is continuing efforts to bring back an endangered beetle to southwestern Missouri.

On Tuesday, more than 300 pairs of American burying beetles raised at the zoo will be released at Wah’Kon-Tah prairie.

The hope is that they’ll mate and reestablish a wild population.

(Video of American burying beetles courtesy of the Saint Louis Zoo)

The Saint Louis Zoo’s Bob Merz says all the beetles are descended from only about ten original pairs, so the least related individuals have been carefully matched up.

“And in doing so, we give them the most diverse genes possible,” Merz said. “So when you look at the whole population, that whole population has the most diversity possible that we can give them.”

Last June, the zoo and its partner agencies released about 120 pairs of American burying beetles.

American burying beetle grubs will sit up and beg their parents for food - something like baby birds.
Credit Marian Brickner/Saint Louis Zoo

Those beetles produced over 1,000 offspring, and an ongoing survey has found that at least one female made it through the winter.

That may not sound like a lot, but the zoo’s Bob Merz says he’s thrilled.

“Partly because it shows that the site can support something,” Merz said.

Merz says it’s likely there are other beetles out there — and even one survivor is more than he expected after just a year of trying.

“I’m pleasantly surprised that we found an overwintering female,” Merz said. “That’s very good news.”

The American burying beetle used to be common across much of the United States but is down to only a handful of small populations. It hasn’t been found in Missouri for more than 40 years.

The Saint Louis Zoo plans to carry out additional reintroductions for at least another three years.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter@KWMUScience