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Category — Invertebrates

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

A Tale of Two Mantises

Praying Mantises, insects in the order Mantodea were so named because of the prayer-like posture of their folded front legs. In the eyes of their prey there’s nothing divine about mantises. There are more than 2,300 species of mantises worldwide and while they vary in size, shape and color they all have one thing in common, they are voracious predators. Cincinnatians can encounter two remarkable mantis species; the native Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) and the introduced Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinesis).

The Carolina Mantis varies in color from light-green to medium-gray and is normally between 1-1/2″ and 2-1/2″ long. These mantises range from the eastern and central United States south through Central America and into northern South America. Carolina Mantis nymphs have the ability to alter their color to match their habitat each time they molt. Adult male Carolina Mantises are strong fliers and will actively stalk their prey. Adult female Carolina Mantises have shortened wings and are heavier bodied; they cannot fly so they lie in wait to ambush their prey.

Carolina Mantis

Carolina Mantis

The Chinese Mantis varies in color from light-green to brown and is normally between 3-1/4″ and 4-1/4″ long. Native to Eastern Asia the Chinese Mantis was allegedly introduced to the United States late in the 19th century to control agricultural pests. By most accounts the Chinese Mantis has done little to control pests despite having become established throughout most of the United States. In some areas the presence of the larger Chinese Mantis has negatively impacted the smaller Carolina Mantis.

Chinese Mantis

Chinese Mantis

Both Carolina and Chinese mantis hatchlings emerge from egg cases in spring and are so small they can be dispersed by strong winds. As the young mantises grow so too does their choice of prey; tiny fruit flies are replaced by increasingly larger flies, bees and moths. Adult Carolina Mantises can capture medium-sized butterflies while adult Chinese Mantises can capture hummingbirds. Both species will mate in late summer or early autumn, leaving their egg cases on the stems of shrubs or bushes. These egg cases will endure even the harshest winters to deliver the next generation the following spring.

Mantises are among the world’s most recognizable and beloved insects. Their grace and ferocity have inspired poets and martial artists. Children the world over have marveled at them in backyards and kept them as pets in quart jars. If you see a mantis this summer please take a few minutes to observe and appreciate one of Cincinnati’s most amazing insects.

Winton Ray / Curator of Invertebrates, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

July 1, 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