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Zoo Preps To Reintroduce Endangered Bettle

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American burying beetle
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The St. Louis Zoo prepares to reintroduce approximately 600 zoo-bred American burying beetles into the wild in Southwest Missouri, Tuesday, June 4. This is more than twice the amount released a year ago, when 236 beetles were reintroduced in the same area for the first time. The 2012 reintroduction marked the first time any federally listed endangered species was reintroduced in Missouri.

Five zoo staff members will spend the day reintroducing the beetle through a project jointly managed by the Zoo’s WildCare Institute Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation; the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; the Missouri Department of Conservation; and The Nature Conservancy. Staff from partner organizations and local volunteers will also help with the reintroduction.

The burying beetle is being reintroduced across the 4,040-acre Wah’ Kon-Tah Prairie in St. Clair and Cedar counties on land jointly owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy.

Thursday and Friday, May 30-31, the beetles will be notched on the elytra, the hard, modified forewings that encase the thin hind wings used in flight. The notch distinguishes captive-bred and wild beetles. The notches are based on release location.

The release process will involve digging holes, or plugs, at selected sites. A quail carcass and a pair of notched beetles will be placed in each hole and the plugs then replaced.

This process simulates a natural underground setting for the beetles’ life cycle. The plug sites will then be monitored for signs of breeding activity by checking for larvae, and later, new adult beetles.

The American burying beetle was placed on the United States federal endangered species list in 1989, when the only known remaining population was in Rhode Island. Since its federal listing, field surveys have discovered populations in six other states in the Midwest but none in Missouri.

“The beetle was last seen in Missouri in the mid-1970s, and for the last decade, the Zoo has been monitoring for existing American burying beetles but with no success,” says Saint Louis Zoo Zoological Manager for Invertebrates Bob Merz.

For the past several years the zoo’s focus has been surveying for the endangered beetles

“Our contribution to reintroduction efforts by returning the beetle to parts of its former range is the beginning of the recovery of this beautiful beetle,” says Merz. “It was really encouraging to find a few offspring from the beetles that were reintroduced last summer during our follow-up surveys.”

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