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Susan Gallagher, 314/646-4633
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An eight-fold increase—850 American burying beetles—were found in traps placed by the Saint Louis Zoo during a recent census of beetles in Southwest Missouri. The American burying beetle is the first endangered species to be re-introduced to the state of Missouri, where by the 1970s it had disappeared.

"We are thrilled to find so many beetles in an area where we have reintroduced them over the past five years," said Bob Merz, Saint Louis Zoo Zoological Manager for Invertebrates and Director of the Saint Louis Zoo Wildcare Institute Center for Conservation of the American Burying Beetle. "We have moved from finding only a handful of beetles in the early years to finding 110 last year and now 850 in 2016."

Zoo staff, partners and volunteers have now reintroduced more than 1,500 beetles into the Wah' Kon-Tah Prairie in St. Clair and Cedar counties in Southwest Missouri on land jointly owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy. After each reintroduction, the Zoo and Missouri Department of Conservation search for beetles.

This year, they found 377 notched beetles. 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.

Another group of un-notched beetles numbered 473. These are offspring of the reintroduced beetles. Finally 173 beetles that had lived over the winter months were found—they are the likely parents of the un-notched beetles.

"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," said Merz. He and other conservationists treasure this insect because of the role it plays in the ecosystem. The American burying beetle removes dead and decaying animals naturally and is responsible for recycling decomposing components back in the environment.

"This beetle is also a proverbial 'canary in the coal mine,' providing warning to us that something harmful is happening in our shared ecosystem," said Merz. "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."

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.



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.
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. 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 13 conservation hotspots around the globe, including four in Missouri. The WildCare Institute also includes the Institute for Conservation Medicine, which focuses on a holistic approach to research on wildlife, public health and sustainable ecosystems to ensure healthy animals and healthy people.

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

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.

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.