ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Members of the endangered American Burying Beetle, carefully born and bred at the St. Louis Zoo, will be taken to southwest Missouri this June for reintroduction into the wild.
“The American Burying Beetle is named for its practice of burying its food,” explained Bob Merz, manager of intertebrates for the St. Louis Zoo, during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “These are the largest of the carrion beetles, up to about one-and-a-half inches long. Largely nocturnal, these beetles are shiny black with bright orange-red bands on their wing covers.”
About 600 of the newly-bred beetles will be transported down to southwest Missouri in June, but Merz says they won’t simply be tossed out into a field, expected to fend for themselves.
“The beetle release process will involve us digging holes, basically soil plugs, at specially selected sites,” Merz said. “Then we will place the carcass of a quail and a pair of tagged beetles into each cavity and replace the soil plug on top of that.”
Observers will peek into the holes from time-to-time to see how the beetles are faring, and most importantly if they’re breeding.
American Burying Beetles have one aspect that is rare in the world of insects — they are very good, attentive parents.
“Very unusual in insects,” said Merz, “Both parents feed their offspring by eating some of the dead flesh of carrion and then regurgitating it into the larvae’s mouth. After about 45-to-60 days, a new generation of beetles emerges.”
At least that how it’s supposed to go.
Officials admit they have no guarantees that the American Burying Beetles will take hold and thrive in their new home.
“We’re not sure what made this species decline originally, so it’s going to be tough trying to figure out what we need to do to help these beetles,” admitted biologist Scott Hamilton with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The most important thing is we need to try.”