The Bug Days of Summer

release area
ABB release site at the Fernald Nature Preserve.

This has been a busy year for the American Burying Beetle reintroduction program at the Cincinnati Zoo. On June 2nd 2015, 53 pairs of federally endangered beetles were set free to reproduce in the wild at the nearby Fernald Nature Preserve. This marks the 3rd year of reintroductions held at the preserve. A post-release check-up at the release site informed us that 75% of the released pairs did in fact breed in the wild and produced an estimated 320 larvae! This brings our 3 year totals to 432 reintroduced beetles that have produced over 1600 larvae in the wild!

group shot
Our 2015 ABB volunteers! Thank you for your help!

In addition to holding our 3rd release earlier this year, we have also partnered with institutions in Nebraska and Oklahoma to expand our captive breeding population. This year we received several pairs of wild-caught American burying beetles (ABBs) from a thriving natural population in Nebraska. These beetles were driven all the way to Cincinnati where we have begun to breed them at the zoo! The offspring from this group of beetles will breed again in captivity and their offspring (the grandkids of the wild-caught beetles) will be released at Fernald during our upcoming 2016 release. Our breeding facility is filling up quickly – we already have about 200 beetles in the first generation! Each beetle gets fed twice a week and is housed in its own container which gets cleaned out twice a week. This adds up to a LOT of work for our Insectarium staff and Volunteers!

Individual ABB containers with labels and serial numbers.

It is necessary to house these beetles separately for a number of reasons, but most importantly each beetle needs to have its own serial number. This serial number tells us information about their pedigree. Unlike many other captive populations of insects, inbreeding is a major concern for ABBs. After just a few generations of inbreeding ABB populations will collapse in captivity. Therefore we use serial numbers to track parentage information for each beetle.

The American Burying Beetle (ABB) was placed on the endangered species list in the late eighties and since then programs like ours have been implemented to help bring this small but charismatic bug back from the brink. The ABB belongs to a family of beetles (Silphidae) that specialize in eating dead stuff (i.e. carrion). In case you’re wondering why this one is called a burying beetle it’s because the adult beetles literally bury small animal carcasses in order to raise their young on them! That might sound gross to you and me, but decomposers are very important to the ecosystem. They recycle nutrients to be used by plants and they prevent waste and dead animals from piling up. Check out this page to read a little bit more about the ABB program at the Cincinnati Zoo. Stay tuned for more updates and details about the 2016 ABB release.

ABB being released at the Fernald Nature Preserve
ABB being released at the Fernald Nature Preserve