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Why Is The American Burying Beetle Endangered Of Becoming Extinct?

Updated on June 27, 2012

Description of the American Burying Beetle

The American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) is described as an inch and a half in length with irregular patches of orange on its black glossy body. The head, face, antennae and wings are a bright pumpkin orange. The colored patches identify it as an American burying beetle, and not one of the more commonly sighted carrion beetles which have a pronotum that is primarily a light yellow with a centered black spot.


Population and Distribution of Species

It is a member of the Silphidae family. There are over 500 species of silphids in the world. There are only 31 species living in North America. The beetle was once found in 35 states in the US, the District of Columbia, and three Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. Now, natural populations are known to occur in only five states: Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Arkansas, South Dakota and Nebraska.

As master scavengers, the American Burying Beetle cleans the environment by burying small dead mammals and various insects for future consumption. Their population began to decline during the 1920s and was classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List in 2002. The demise of the species is thought to be a combination of several factors.

Theories of Beetle Decline

The main factor the beetles’ numbers are thought to be declining may be attributed to the splintering of its habitat, which has allowed accessibility for other scavengers such as fox, badger, and raccoon. This has led to a decrease in the food sources for the beetle and being isolated from the remaining populations of American Burying Beetle.

The second factor for the decline in the beetle population may be attributed to the widespread use of pesticides. However, DDT does not appear to be a contributor since the beetle began to disappear before widespread use of the pesticide.

Biologists have not been able to show why the American Burying Beetle has disappeared from so many areas. The reduction of small carcasses to bury prevents the species from reproducing, and changes in beetle habitat have reduced the quantity of small birds and mammals. The American Burying Beetle may have been impacted by the extinction of the passenger pigeon as they were once plentiful and used by the beetle as both a food source and the carcass of the pigeon was used as a reproduction environment.

Current Populations

Currently, the Fish & Wildlife Service is monitoring the following populations of the American Burying beetle: Arkansas , Kansas , Massachusetts , Missouri , Nebraska , Ohio , Oklahoma , Rhode Island , South Dakota , and Texas. The following USFWS Refuges are known to have populations of the American Burying Beetle: BLOCK ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, NORTH DAKOTA WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA, SEQUOYAH NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, VALENTINE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE.


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    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Terrye, the American Burying Beetle is alive and well in Longwood, Florida. I've seen them at work three times in the past two years. The first time I saw them I couldn't believe what I was seeing. They collectively buried a dead rat in my front yard. The entire process (which I documented with my camera) took about eight hours.

      Several months later, they buried a dead Cardinal found on the side of my house. Just this year (2014) they went to town on a dead mole that was on the street side of my property. They actually came out and moved the mole onto the grassy easement and continued with their work.

      What baffles me is why the neighborhood cats or buzzards don't snatch these small dead animals first. Do they sense the beetles are on their way?

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 4 years ago

      Very interesting information. I live in CT, near RI, and I have never noticed this insect before. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      Most all bugs are of some help to us in one way or another, except maybe a mosquito I see no use for them. Interesting hub voted up and shared.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 6 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Hi, billips! You are so right! And so many species are connected. I guess sometimes we forget that.

    • billips profile image

      billips 6 years ago from Central Texas

      A really interesting hub - it's not a good sign when living things that do good are disappearing - B.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 6 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      SO true, Danette. It amazes me that most people don't realize that bats will eat their weight in insects like mosquitoes (which carry diseases) every night. And without bees, most food crops wouldn't be pollinated. Everything is linked. Thank you for stopping by to read my hub and leave a comment. Appreciate that!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      Every time another species goes on the endangered list, we lose another important piece of our world. I just heard a program today on NPR about some fungus the bat population is dealing with and there is also the problem with the bees. People don't understand that while we think the bee or the bat is inconsequential, they are important pieces of the eco-chain and every link that breaks (dies out) weakens the whole chain.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 6 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Thank you, Derdriu, I was originally going to start a series of the flora and fauna of North Dakota, but I'm finding that a lot of the critters around here are either on the endangered or the critical lists. I was *shocked* to say the least! I'm rolling the "whys" and "hows" through my brain and trying to figure out what I'm going to do with everything that I've learned. :o)

    • profile image

      Derdriu 6 years ago

      TToombs08: What a factual, succinct account of the declining life and times of one of the members of nature's critical "clean-up crew"! It is sobering to think of how one missing link (passenger pigeon) can bring about another (American burying beetle) and that breaking up habitats may work for humans, who like to separate home and work, but not for nature, which needs the two close together.

      Thank you,


    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 6 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      My pleasure, Old Poolman! :o)

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 6 years ago

      I'm sure most of the creatures put on this planet serve or served some purpose. Thanks for a great hub and the response to my question.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 6 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Hi Old Poolman: They contribute to society by recycling decaying materials (dead animals) back into the ecosystem. Thank you for reading and contributing. :o)

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 6 years ago

      Interesting and informative hub. I do need to ask however what the impact would be if these beetles became extinct? Do they contribute anything to society or are they just there? I'm just curious is all.


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