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Approximately 300 Saint Louis Zoo-bred American burying beetles are being reintroduced in Southwest Missouri; 146 were reintroduced on Tuesday, June 2, 2015.  Approximately 150 will be reintroduced on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. The American burying beetle is the first endangered species to be re-introduced to the state of Missouri.


Nearly a dozen members of the Zoo ALIVE teen volunteer program at the Zoo are helping prep the beetles for reintroduction and will be participating in the actual reintroduction on June 16 (ALIVE stands for Active Leaders In Volunteer Education).


In preparation for the reintroduction, the beetles are paired and marked by “notching” each beetle’s elytra, or hard wing covers. The notch distinguishes captive-bred and wild beetles, and beetles are also notched based on release location.


This is the fourth year beetles are being reintroduced into the same location in Southwest Missouri.  In 2014, approximately 350 beetles were reintroduced.  In 2013, approximately 600 beetles were reintroduced—more than double the 236 beetles reintroduced in the same area in 2012. The 2012 reintroduction marked the first time ever this beetle had been reintroduced in Missouri.


This project is jointly managed by the Zoo’s WildCare Institute Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation; the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; the Missouri Department of Conservation; and The Nature Conservancy. Staff from partner organizations and local volunteers also help with the reintroduction.


As in previous years, the burying beetle is being reintroduced across the Wah’ Kon-Tah Prairie in St. Clair and Cedar counties on land jointly owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy.


The beetle release process involves digging holes, or plugs, at specially selected sites, placing the carcass of a quail and a pair of notched beetles in each cavity and replacing the plugs.


This process simulates a natural underground setting for the beetles’ life cycle. The plug sites will then be monitored for signs of breeding activity by checking for larvae, and later, new adult beetles.


By the time this carrion feeder was placed on the United States federal endangered species list in 1989, the only known remaining population was in Rhode Island. Since its federal listing, field surveys have discovered populations in six other states in the Midwest but none in Missouri, where surveying for the endangered beetles has been the focus of the Zoo’s American burying beetle conservation efforts for several years.


“It was really encouraging to find offspring from the beetles that were reintroduced earlier during our follow up surveys,” said Saint Louis Zoo Zoological Manager for Invertebrates Bob Merz.  Merz is also director of the American burying beetle center that is part of the Zoo’s 12-center WildCare Institute dedicated to saving animals across the globe and at home.


Recent surveys found nine of the endangered beetles that made it through the winter.  “This is very encouraging.  The beetles do not necessarily emerge from their underground winter hibernation all at once so the number of beetles found in the spring surveys is not that telling.  The key is that we found offspring from beetles we introduced and that the offspring made it through the winter –and we still have a chance to find more,” Merz said.


“The beetle was last seen in Missouri in the mid-1970s, and for the last decade, the Zoo had monitored for existing American burying beetles but with no success,” said Merz. “Our contribution to reintroduction efforts by returning the beetle to parts of its former range is the beginning of the recovery of this beautiful beetle.”  For more information, visit http://www.stlzoo.org/conservation/wildcare-institute/americanburyingbeetleconse/


BACKGROUND: The Saint Louis Zoo’s WildCare Institute Center for the Conservation of the American Burying Beetle in Missouri. Genetic work organized by the Center for American Burying Beetle Conservation provides a firm base for both reintroductions and breeding programs. The Center is involved in a number of important developments for this species.  Through its WildCare Institute, the Zoo focuses on wildlife management and recovery, conservation science, and support of the human populations that coexist with wildlife in 12 conservation hotspots around the globe, including four in Missouri. The WildCare Institute also includes the Institute for Conservation Management, which focuses on a holistic approach to research on wildlife, public health and sustainable ecosystems to ensure healthy animals and healthy people.  www.stlzoo.org


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov.


The Missouri Department of Conservation. This state agency protects and manages the fish, forest and wildlife resources of the state of Missouri.  The state agency facilitates citizens’ participation in resource management activities and provides opportunities for use, enjoyment and education about nature. http://mdc.mo.gov/.


The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy in Missouri is one of the state’s leading conservation organizations. Established more than 50 years ago, the Missouri program has an impressive history of success. www.nature.org.


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