It is an exciting step for conservation efforts at The Wilds in Cumberland as they release over one hundred American Burying Beetles into the wild.
The American Burying Beetle is the first insect to be listed as a federally protected endangered species and completely disappeared from Ohio in 1974.
"For some reason this species has been out competed or something has happened to cause their numbers to decline," explained Wildlife Biologist at Wayne National Forest Lynda Andrews.
Thanks to zoos from Rhode Island, Cincinnati and St. Louis this species of beetle is being bred in captivity so that programs like the Wilds can release them back into their natural habitat.
"Not a lot is known about this species to begin with," said Animal Management Support Staff Christy Wampler. "There’s only a couple places in the country that do captive breeding, so figuring out as we went along what we needed to do in order to make them successfully breed in captivity so that we were able to do a reintroduction is really important."
80 holes were dug for the beetles. Each hole was 6-8 inches deep and contains two genetically paired beetles a male and a female.
"We put them in a hole with a rat which they’ll prepare as a carcass for their brood and then they’ll lay their larva there and in about 12-14 days we’ll go into the soil and pupate and in about 50 days emerge as adult beetles," explained Wampler.
Until then the holes are covered in dirt and marked with a piece of cardboard, fencing is put over the top so that raccoons and other predators can’t get into the hole and eat the rats. It’s a step towards protecting an insect important to our ecosystem.
"One of their jobs, they are burying beetles, is to get rid of the carcasses of small animals, birds, a chipmunk or a rat or something like that," said Director of Animal Management Dan Beetum. "That’s one of their jobs within the ecosystem to help process and get rid of that organic material and recycle them."
Wayne National Forest has spent the last four years releasing 750 pairs of the beetle. While they have been able to prove they are reproducing they have found no proof of them after the winter. That’s something the Wilds hops to accomplish through trapping.
"It’s such a neat rare species that used to be a big part of our ecology," explained Angela Boyer a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Coordinator for endangered species in Ohio. "Getting a more natural diverse community I think is very important."
Each beetle raised the Wilds is marked so that researchers can tell which beetles are new to the brood and which are original releases.