Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | August 1, 2018
From Missouri Conservationist: August 2018

Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.

Wildlife Restoration

American Burying Beetle Restoration

For millennia, the American burying beetle (ABB) helped decompose dead animals on prairies and other habitats in 35 states. They seek and bury carrion to feed their young. Now the ABB is federally endangered and struggling to survive in less than seven states. In 2012, MDC entered into a partnership with the St. Louis Zoo, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Nature Conservancy to restore ABB in Missouri, starting at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie. To track the effort’s success, MDC and the St. Louis Zoo started a mark recapture study in 2016. St. Louis Region Natural History Biologist Andrea Schuhmann heads it up.

“We mark the individuals we capture,” she said. “Based on the proportion of new, unmarked beetles to previously captured beetles, we can then develop the population estimate. We want to get a sense of how many wild beetles are being produced out here and are surviving.”

As the team starts its third year of population monitoring, it appears ABB numbers are holding steady. “We may have reached a saturation point,” Schuhmann said. “Our preliminary analysis shows Wah’Kon-Tah currently has around 80–120 ABBs, and we suspect this may be the maximum number it can support in a given year.”

Schuhmann said this year her team will expand their work to other MDC properties. Last year they documented ABBs dispersing to Monegaw Prairie Conservation Area, which is about 2 miles south of Wah’Kon-Tah. “This was great news, especially since we found both males and females. It could mean they are reproducing outside of the study area.”
MDC uses mark recapture methods to track success. Biologists apply tiny green tags to the wing coverings of captured specimens.

ABB Restoration at a Glance

  • Trapping and marking: Biologists set baited buckets covered with wire into the ground. ABB crawl in but they can’t get out. Biologists tag captured ABB.
  • Monitoring: Throughout the summer, biologists spend several consecutive nights trapping ABB, comparing each night’s marked versus unmarked beetles.
  • Trend: Encouraging!

Numbers appear to be holding steady (2–4 beetles per area square kilometer). There’s also evidence of reproduction outside the study area, and many large, ABB-friendly public prairies lie within ABB’s carrion smelling range.

Orange organs allow ABB to smell carrion from 2 miles away. 1,000 ABB is Missouri's target population.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler