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Category — American Burying Beetle

American Burying Beetle Release – Round Two

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.

ABB being released at the Fernald Nature Preserve

ABB being released at the Fernald Nature Preserve

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.

ABB release site at Fernald

ABB release site at Fernald

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.

Inside a pitfall trap at Fernald

ABB relatives inside a pitfall trap at Fernald

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.

Staff and volunteers at the American Burying Beetle release.

Thanks to everyone involved with this year’s American Burying Beetle release!

July 11, 2014   1 Comment

Here We Go Again!

In May 2013 the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden released 240 critically endangered American burying beetles (ABBs) at the nearby Fernald Nature Preserve. Thanks to careful planning on behalf of Zoo, the Fernald staff, and volunteers, the release went smoothly. We had several successful broods when we went back to check on them a couple weeks later. You can read all about that here.

The Cincinnati Zoo is excited to announce that it is planning on doing another release this year! In early July staff will be releasing another group of ABBs at Fernald. This will be the second of at least five years of releases planned at this location. This species only occurs in about 10% of its historic range. Our hope is that methodic reintroductions like what we hold at Fernald will have a positive impact on the overall habitat range of this animal.

That's one of the ABBs we released.

That’s one of the ABBs we released!

On June 21st 2014 from 10:00am-12:00pm, at the Fernald Preserve visitors center, I will be giving a presentation all about this beetle’s life cycle and its recovery program. This is free, open to the public, and you’re all invited! Please join us for what’s sure to be an interesting look at a very unique animal’s life cycle. The first part of this presentation will take place in the community meeting room, after which we will take a short hike out into the field where we will check a pitfall trap and talk more about this beetle’s natural history. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have about the beetle or the reintroductions. Hope to see you there!

American Burying Beetles

June 6, 2014   1 Comment

Fernald or Bust

When most people think of an endangered species they think of animals like tigers, gorillas, or giant pandas. Animals like reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates are frequently overlooked, but it turns out that they too are just as negatively affected by habitat destruction and pollution. Since these animals are often thought of as “creepy-crawlies” it can be challenging to convey their importance to the public. The truth is that all animals play a critical role in the environment – even the ones that aren’t so cute and fuzzy.

ABB at the release site.

Three years ago I began working with Fernald Nature Preserve and the USFWS to help bring back the critically endangered American burying beetle (ABB). After two years of preliminary surveys the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden got the green light to have our first release. On May 13, 2013 the zoo reintroduced 240 ABBs at Fernald. This is the first time that beetles bred at our zoo were released into the wild!

Organizing the reintroduction.

An American burying beetle release isn’t as simple as just opening up containers of beetles and letting them crawl away though. It is a very organized and detailed event. Before the big day we picked 120 males and 120 females and paired them together based on pedigree. On the day of the release my volunteers and I began very early in the morning. We packed the 120 pairs into coolers to keep them from overheating on the way to the release site. Once at Fernald we carried the coolers and all of our supplies into the woods to begin the reintroduction.

Securing one of the release areas.

We start by digging 120 holes in the soil. Each hole is about 4 inches in diameter and about 6 inches deep. In each hole we placed a rat carcass that the beetles require to reproduce. Then we methodically placed the pairs of beetles on the carcasses and carefully covered the holes with plugs of soil. The area was covered in welded wire fencing and staked down to prevent scavengers like raccoons from interrupting.

A HUGE shout out to my volunteers Sam, Scott, April and Becky for helping me raise beetles all year!

After 2 weeks we went back to check on their progress. We uncovered 30% of the holes in order to get a good idea of the overall success rate of the release. I am happy to report that these endangered beetles have successfully reproduced in the wild at the Fernald Nature Preserve! This does not mean that our work is over – in fact it’s only just beginning. We will continue to reintroduce beetles at Fernald for several more years to hopefully establish a self-sufficient population.

Counting American Burying Beetle larvae that resulted from the 2013 release. These were the larvae found in just one of the holes.

July 11, 2013   2 Comments