Beetle on the comeback, endangered designation could get buried

State News

This was the first spring an American burying beetle had been spotted in Central Ohio in decades. The first reported sighting of the beetle in Ohio was in 1974. While the reasons are unknown for its decline, the United States Forest Service suggests the insect’s existence decreasing could have been from increased competition from scavenging predators.   

“Honestly, I had to do a double take, becuase I couln’t believe what I was seening,” Adrea Malek said. “The first one I saw was a female in a bucket.”

Photo courtesy of United States Forest Service

Reintroduction began in Ohio in 1998. In 2002 The Ohio State University began maintaining a breeding colony  in the state. The Wilds began its program in 2007. You can read more about the reintroduction of the beetle here.

The Wilds’ Director of Wildlife Ecology Stephen Spear and Wildlife Ecology Technician Adrea Malek are on the road to Nebraska. This is where they have been capturing an endangered insect to bring home and repropagate Ohio.

Since 2007, The Wilds has been trying to re propagate the area with the native insect. What Malek saw was a first in years. Three beetles had survived the winter. Their works seems to be paying off. At least for this year.  

“We’re actually going to Nebraska to collect some beetles to bring back to Ohio,” said Spear. “We just collect a few pairs because we don’t want to hurt their population.”

When they get back to Ohio, The Wilds will mate the couples in hopes of creating more offspring. These will be the grandparents of some of the beetles released next summer.

“That will increase the genetic diversity of our beetles onsite because were getting a new crop of founders every single year,” said Malek.

The beetle is important to the environment. According to Muskingum County based The Wilds, “A mated pair of beetles will bury an animal carcass to provide food for its hatching larvae. When the larvae emerge as adults, they will feed on small dead animals and fly up to two miles in search of food playing an important role in nutrient recycling. American burying beetles were the first insects to become a federally listed endangered species.”

“It breaks down animals that have died and are decomposing and gets those nutrients back into the system,” said Malek.

The beetle excretes a slimy substance over the animal and lays their eggs inside. The larvae and mom and dad will eat on the dead animal to survive.

“It’s an antimicrobial substance that slows down the decay so their larvae have more time to eat it,” said Malek.

“It doesn’t even look like you’d imagine,” said Spear. “It actually looks more like a ball of mud and it doesn’t particularly smell.”

One of the most unique elements of the American burying beetle for Malek, is that they care for their offspring.

“In our facility, we will exhume the carcass so we can weigh larva,” said Malek. “As I am working with the larvae and trying to get them tallied, the parents will try to guide them away from me.”

On May 1, the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) wrote that the American burying beetle is “Staging a comeback.”

The reason, the work being done alongside the the USFWS with groups like The Wilds and the Cincinnati Zoo.

“It’s certainly still threatened because were… still working to make sure our other re-introductions will be sustainable,” said Spear.

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