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Beetles, Chickens, Cows and Quail

May 25, 2012

Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie is an amazing place! Located just north of El Dorado Springs, this 3,030-acre grassland is a remnant of the prairie ecosystem that once covered more than one-quarter of Missouri. The site is jointly owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy.

Managers here use a combination of prescribed burning and cattle grazing, a process called patch-burn grazing, to simulate historic disturbances that maintain healthy, diverse grasslands. Patch-burn grazing is proving beneficial to recently reintroduced greater prairie-chickens as well as to grassland birds like Henslow's sparrow and upland sandpiper.

Bobwhites also respond to the way cattle sculpt the prairie vegetation. Whistle counts found three to 11 times more quail on patch-burn grazed prairies than on nearby areas which provided the more traditional mix of food plots, grass strips and shrub plantings. Wildlife Biologist Matt Hill reports good numbers of whistling Bobs in this year’s patch-burn unit! Check out the fun video link below to see the theory behind patch-burn grazing in action.

Beyond prairie chickens, quail and other birds, management at Wah’Kon-Tah also considers the needs of lesser known prairie species, including Mead's milkweed, prairie mole crickets, regal fritillary butterflies, pink katydid, northern crawfish frog and the slender glass lizard. Soon, another native species will return to this prairie.

American burying beetles, the first insect designated as endangered, will soon return to Wah’Kon-Tah as part of a well coordinated partnership that includes the Saint Louis Zoo’s Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation, the U.S. Fish andWildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy. These endangered beetles will be designated as part of a "nonessential experimental" population by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This designation provides flexibility and assurance to nearby landowners that the presence of this protected species will not affect farming and other land-management activities.

Up to 300 pairs of the zoo-bred beetles will be released – for the first time in Missouri - in June. Aside from being a large, beautifully colored species, American burying beetles have amazing habits that include parental care for their young. See the St. Louis Zoo's burying beetle info under External Links below to learn more about the return of this fascinating creature to Missouri’s prairie landscape.

American burying beetles are scavengers. They require the carcass of a small bird or rodent to reproduce. As I understand the plan, managers and volunteers will release the beetles by digging a shallow hole in which they will bury a mated pair of beetles along with a dead, pen-reared quail. Quail hunters fear not: These beetles pose no threat to live quail and will use any carcass of suitable size to start their next generation.

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