American Burying Beetle Conservation Centre

To survey existing populations and reintroduce captive-bred American burying beetles into their former range in the USA


American burying beetles, Nicrophorus americanus, just about 3 cm long, are master scavengers, cleaning the environment as they bury dead small mammals and various insects for future consumption.


American burying beetles were once plentiful in 35 states and south eastern parts of Canada. Quite suddenly in the 1920’s sharp declines were noticed in the range of this large colourful Silphid species. Its decline may be due to several factors. Fragmentation of habitat has increased accessibility for other carrion consumers such as fox, raccoon, small mammals, and some raptors. Thus, the American burying beetle often finds less and less to bury and then eat. Another reasons is the increased lighting in developed areas. This diminishes the abundance of night use insects and curbs another food source for the beetles. Also, certain genetic changes may alter reproduction on some level.


By 1989 the beetle could be found in only one state, Rhode Island, on an island known as Block Island. They were listed as Endangered by the federal government during the same year. Since 1989 small populations have been found in five other states, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas. Successful breeding colonies can be found in Roger Williams Park Zoo, Ohio State University and the Saint Louis Zoo. Reintroduction has been tried in Ohio, and Nantucket (Massachusetts). Further surveying is going on in Missouri in hopes of finding a wild colony and research on the beetles continues in hopes of finding answers to questions about its swift disappearance and if reintroduction will be successful.


The Saint Louis Zoo's Invertebrate Department acts as the Center of Conservation of the American Burying Beetle. Surveys are carried out throughout the State of Missouri every summer to try to find wild populations of the American burying beetles. The Center is working with Government agencies to determine the status of the American burying beetles to determine if they are extant from the state and if it will be possible to work with the Nature Conservancy on a site they own to try a reintroduction within the next two years.

WAZA Conservation Project 05002 is operated by the Saint Louis Zoo in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, Department of Natural Resources, and the United States of Fish and Wildlife.


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