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Endangered American Burying Beetle gets a reintroduction at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie

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The American Burying Beetle is making a comeback at Wa Kon Aah Prairie in the Ozarks.

The American Burying Beetle is making a comeback at Wa Kon Aah Prairie in the Ozarks.

The American Burying Beetle, a scavenger about an inch long once common in some rather avoidable scenes, has been missing from the Ozarks since the 1970s. It is so rare that it became the first insect designated as a federally endangered species.

The beetle earns its place in nature by feeding on rotting road kill and other dead animal locations, performing a valuable service in the wild that most of us would go out of the way to avoid.

Now the colorful black beetle with orange spots has been making a comeback through a joint project hosted by the St. Louis Zoo with support from various conservation organizations.

A population of 850 American burying beetles has been “discovered” at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie, located about 80 miles northwest of Springfield. The Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie population is the only location where the beetle is known to be thriving in the Ozarks and Missouri. The prairies is just northeast of El Dorado Springs off U.S. 54 Highway in Cedar County.

Along with the zoo, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and have collaborated since 2012 to breed the beetles at the zoo and periodically reintroduce them.

The beetle was once found in 35 U.S. states and southern Canada. But by 1989, only one population was known to exist, in Rhode Island. Beetle populations have been rediscovered in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Nebraska and Arkansas.

Bob Merz, who directs the zoo’s Wildcare Institute Center for Conservation of the American Burying Beetle, describes himself as “thrilled” by the latest find.

“We believe with adequate research on what has caused this animal to disappear the species may again thrive in Missouri, and the surveys for the beetles have offered very positive signs for their future survival,” Merz said in a statement.

Experts don’t know what precipitated the beetle’s decline, but scientists speculate it may have been due to pesticides, habitat loss and destruction, or competition by other scavengers of dead animals.

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