On July 1st, 2014 the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden released over 100 critically-endangered American Burying Beetles (ABB for short) at the Fernald Nature Preserve. This was the second of at least five years of releases planned at the preserve. As you might have read in previous blog posts I have been working closely with Fernald and the USFWS for the past four years to ensure that this species has an opportunity to make a comeback. This six-legged beauty has a very bazaar yet important role as a decomposer. Pairs of ABBs raise their young on the carcasses of small mammals and birds that they literally bury. While this might sound gross, these beetles and other decomposers are vital to the health of the ecosystem. Animals like these act like nature’s garbage men, removing and re-using things that no one else wants to deal with.
When the beetles were released last week they were provided with rat carcasses and methodically placed in the ground to breed. The release sites were carefully marked and protected from scavengers with layers of fencing. Next week we will return to check on the success of this year’s release by digging up about 20% of the carcasses. We will count any larvae and place them back in the soil to finish out their life cycle which will take about two more months.
This fall I will perform a post-release survey to check for any new adult ABBs at the preserve. The survey consists of setting and baiting pit-fall traps around the preserve that attract and trap live ABBs and other related beetles. So what exactly do you bait these traps with? I’m glad you asked! Inside each of these traps we place a container of steamy, foamy, week old, rotten chicken!
I assumed this aspect of the job would be pretty unpleasant when I signed up for it, but WOW did I underestimate the lingering, ghastly stench of rotten poultry. It works like a charm though. Within minutes these traps attract all sorts of carrion beetles. If ABBs are in the area, this level of stink will certainly attract them.
ABBs are capable of flying over two miles a night, and Fernald is roughly one square mile. Our survey efforts are limited to the preserve; therefore it can be hard to gauge the overall success of these reintroductions. While we have not yet recaptured any ABBs at Fernald, other reintroductions in the US have yielded positive results, so we remain hopeful. I truly believe that efforts by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and other involved institutions will have a positive impact on this species’ general population status.