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Category — Invertebrates

American Burying Beetle Reintroduction

On May 24th The Cincinnati Zoo will be releasing over 100 pairs of American burying beetles (ABBs) at the nearby Fernald Nature preserve. These beetles were reared at the Cincinnati Zoo by insectarium staff, interns, volunteers and students. They are the offspring of wild collected beetles from Nebraska. The ABB was once found everywhere in the eastern United States but because of a handful of issues (habitat destruction, increased scavenger populations, etc.) they are now only found in a few counties in a few states. The Cincinnati Zoo has partnered with the US Fish & Wildlife service and the Fernald Nature Preserve to help bring this strange but important, endangered insect back to Ohio.

A Zoo Academy student helping to rear the endangered American Burying Beetle!

A Zoo Academy student helping to rear the endangered American Burying Beetle!

This is the 4th year of reintroductions held at Fernald. We are also planning a second release of about 50 pairs of ABBs in early July. After this year we will have placed over 600 adult ABBs at Fernald in an attempt to found a wild population. 

This is a brand new beetle raised at the Cincinnati Zoo

This is a brand new beetle raised at the Cincinnati Zoo

When we release the beetles we actually set them up to breed right away so that each pair of beetles can create up to 40 offspring. It’s called a burying beetle for a reason! These ABBs will locate small animal carcasses and bury them a foot deep overnight and then raise their young on the carcass. Check-ups and post release monitoring have shown us that the beetles are breeding and creating hundreds of larvae, but unfortunately we have yet to find any adult ABBs that have over-wintered on site at Fernald. That may sound dismal, but it is my opinion that they are just dispersing beyond our ability to survey for them. These beetles can fly up to 2 miles in one night! This year however we are holding two separate reintroductions to see if it will affect their over-wintering success and their dispersal rate. We also hope to partner with neighboring parks and wildlife areas to expand our survey efforts.

The rearing facility at the zoo. Each container houses a single beetle. Pink for girls and blue for boys.

The rearing facility at the zoo. Each container houses a single beetle. Pink for girls and blue for boys.

Join the Cincinnati Zoo on June 18th from 2pm-4pm at the Fernald Nature Preserve’s Visitor’s Center for a presentation about all things ABB! I’ll be bringing specimens and going over the animal’s natural history and the reintroduction efforts. We will also be hiking out to a pit-fall trap to see what we caught overnight with crossed fingers that there might be an American burying beetle waiting in the trap!

The release site at the Fernald Preserve

The release site at the Fernald Preserve

Click here to learn more about ABBs.

May 16, 2016   No Comments

Grow the Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators in Your Own Yard

After more than 25 years of trialing plants, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden knows which plants grow and look best in our region. We’ve narrowed down that list to the plants that most benefit pollinators to create the Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators Plant Series.

Working with local plant growers, we have introduced a Zoo-branded line of plants that are easy-to-grow, beautiful, and pollinator-friendly. Available for purchase at many independent local garden centers, a portion of the proceeds support the Botanical Gardens at the Zoo. Download the list of plants and participating retailers here: Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators.

3D 1quart Zoo's Best 11-23-15(4)

Why plant for pollinators?

Pollinators are beneficial

All of us enjoy the beauty that the many species of butterflies and moths bring to our lives, and we depend on honeybees to pollinate a huge proportion of our food crops. That is just a small part of what pollinators do. Thousands of species of native bees, wasps, and flies ensure reliable pollination throughout the ecosystem so that abundant crops of seeds regenerate wild areas and also provide seeds and fruits for birds and other wildlife to eat. Just as importantly, many pollinating insects also prey upon pest insect species, such as aphids and scale, which ensures a more balanced, healthier garden and ecosystem.

Pollination in progress! (Photo: DJJAM)

Pollination in progress! (Photo: DJJAM)

Pollinators are under pressure

Pollinator numbers are falling due to loss of habitat and other pressures. Your yard can provide valuable habitat to help support healthy populations of pollinators.

Make your yard a thriving oasis for pollinators!

  • Include Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators in your yard to attract and provide for pollinators.
  • Limit use of pesticides. Only spray when necessary, seek expert advice, and follow label instructions exactly if you do use them.
  • Provide sources of water, such as a birdbath or a water feature.
Pipeline swallowtail on Zinnia Zahara 'Fire'

Pipeline swallowtail on Zinnia Zahara ‘Fire’

Come see us at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden!

These plants and many others are part of every Zoo visitor’s experience. Come see us! Enjoy our gardens as well as the World of the Insect exhibit to learn more about these fascinating and beneficial animals.

World of the Insect (Photo: DJJAM)

World of the Insect (Photo: DJJAM)

April 13, 2016   2 Comments

Spring Bees

Male Carpenter Bee image by Matt Ward

Male Carpenter Bee image by Matt Ward

Spring has sprung and before long the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden will be inundated with school groups and Carpenter Bees. And while your first instinct will be to avoid them I promise you, the school children are not to be feared. Neither are the Carpenter Bees (Xylacopa viginica), the large, yellow and black flying insect frequently encountered on zoo grounds during spring. Though they are often mistaken for Bumblebees they can be most easily differentiated from them by their black, hairless abdomens; Bumblebees have fuzzy abdomens. Carpenter Bees were so named because the females excavate their nest tunnels in wood. But the bees only nest in the wood, they do not feed on it; Carpenter Bees feed on nectar and pollen. And while Carpenter Bees can sometimes damage wooden structures the damage is occasionally caused by woodpeckers working to excavate the bees themselves for food.

Carpenter bees overwinter as adults and are among the first insects observed in spring. Each male stakes out a territory in the vicinity of a nesting female awaiting the opportunity to breed. Any other males entering the territory will be chased away and just about anything else entering the territory will be investigated. Females will reuse old tunnels or excavate new ones. Within each tunnel is a series of small chambers. A single egg is left in each chamber along with a small amount of nectar and pollen to nourish the larvae. Young Carpenter Bees will emerge from their chambers in late summer to feed on nectar in preparation for a long winter’s hibernation. The following spring they’ll emerge and begin the cycle all over again.

The Carpenter Bees encountered on zoo grounds are generally males, who’ll investigate anything that comes into their territory. Males can be easily differentiated from females by the gold or white marking between their eyes. Carpenter Bees are large and fast flying so it’s easy to see why people mistake their curiosity for aggression. But there’s really nothing to fear; male Carpenter Bees, like all male bees, wasps or hornets cannot sting. The stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg laying organ) which males don’t have. Female Carpenter Bees are capable of stinging but rarely do unless harassed.

Carpenter Bees are probably the most common bees in greater Cincinnati. The Carpenter Bees you’ll encounter at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden are going about their lives the way their species has for countless millennia. They just happen to be doing it at a zoo instead of in a deciduous forest.

Winton Ray
Curator of Invertebrates & Aquatic Animals
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

March 30, 2016   2 Comments