What Is The American Burying Beetle?

Cheers For The American Burying Beetle!

American Burying BeetleDespite my years as a Girl Scout, Girl Scout leader, occasional camper and sporadic hiker, with a great appreciation for the outdoors, I can’t say that I’ve ever been a fan of the invertebrate.  Sure, I’ve gently swept errant daddy long legs out of the tent as the girls cowered in fear, and urged the curious honey bee away from its intended human landing pad with a light wave of my hand.  I’ll even admit to gingerly transferring a misdirected ladybug or multipede from its indoor encampment to a more fitting outdoor location.  But a fan?  Not so much.  I mostly thought of invertebrates—insects, bugs, etc.—as something to be tolerated and probably avoided.

My less than welcoming attitude began to shift when I became aware of a handsome little guy known as the American Burying Beetle or ABB for short.  Also known as the giant carrion beetle, the ABB knew that “orange is the new black” well before the hit series on Netflix. It is the largest sized beetle of its genus in North America, reaching 1½ inches in length, and its orange against black coloration makes it distinctively attractive.

Lost beetleThe American Burying Beetle Was Declared An Endangered Species

Formerly found in 35 of the U.S. states, the species experienced a dramatic 90% decline over time, resulting in populations totally disappearing from many states. Recent studies discovered the remaining ABB’s in only 6 states, (Nebraska, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Kansas, and Arkansas). In 1989 the American Burying Beetle was declared an endangered species.

It difficult to determine exactly what caused the decline of the ABB. By the late 1920’s, the ABB population was already at risk, and had disappeared from many areas. Its disappearance is likely based on a combination of factors. Among others, transformation of natural habitats resulted in a reduction of species on which the ABB depends, including the extinction of the passenger pigeon. With fewer food sources, competition from other scavengers such as raccoons, crows, foxes and others intensified.

beetle on flowerBeetles Can Smell a Dead Animal Up to Two Miles Away

What’s so interesting about these….bugs? Well, they are AMAZING! Carrion beetles, like the American Burying Beetle, dispose of dead things: mice, birds, and other small animals.   They are like crime scene clean up crew after the CSI team has completed its investigation, (Although, in nature there really is no CSI.) The ABB needs carrion (dead animals) in order to sustain itself and its offspring.

Here’s how it works.

The antennae of the American Burying Beetle are highly proficient odor sensing devices. The beetles can smell a dead animal up to two miles away just an hour after death. While this is not a sensory skill most humans would value, it comes in very handy for the ABB. The beetle flies to the carcass – and, if necessary, will fight off other invertebrate competitors. The ABB burrows beneath the carcass, turning on its back and lifting the carcass with its legs to determine if it is the right size–2 to 7 ounces—about the size of a rat or a pigeon. Amazingly these beetles can handle a carcass up to 200 times their size.

Both the male and female beetles are required to “prepare” the carcass. This work is done at night to prevent flies, which are active during the day, from laying eggs on the remains. If the male arrives at the carcass first, he waits for the female. The male is easily distinguished from the female by its markings. The male sports an orange rectangle on its head, while the female displays a smaller triangle on her head. If no female arrives after a period of time, the male sits on top of the carcass and emits pheromones to attract a female partner. There is no time for social amenities or a cappuccino at a local coffee shop. Once both the male and female are present they begin to dig under the carcass, cutting through roots and pushing the dirt out and on top of the carcass, literally burying it over night. (Beetles 1; Flies 0)

Once buried, both beetles begin the work of stripping the carcass of any fur or feathers, and work the mass into a compact ball. They then cover the carcass with secretions that preserve the carrion and alter decomposition. All this without refrigeration!

PastedGraphic-6-page-001Now that the work is done and the pantry is well stocked it’s time to get ready for the babies. The female constructs a short chamber above the carrion and depending on the size of the carrion, will lay 10 to 30 eggs in the chamber. Then she returns to the carrion and makes a depression on the top. It is here that both mom and dad regurgitate droplets of partially digested food, which will serve as nutrition for the babies (larvae). Just think of it as bug baby formula! The eggs hatch within a few days.

Now here is something pretty incredible! Once the eggs hatch, mom will help the newborns to the “all they can eat buffet” (the carcass). In addition, mom and dad will stay with the larvae and “parent” them until they can go out on their own. This is extremely rare in the insect world, and demonstrates highly developed behavior for an insect. In the meantime, mom and dad will continue to take care of the carcass, removing fungi and protecting the remains with secretions. After about a week, the larvae will have consumed all except the bones. (Delish!) At this point mom and dad leave the nest and the youngsters are left to pupate nearby. They will emerge as striking orange and black adults about a month later. This flurry of activity generally occurs late April through September.

larvaeWhat about the parents? At this point you may think they have flown off to take a well-deserved vacation, but sadly that is not the case. The American Burying Beetle has a life span of just one year. The adults die shortly after leaving the nest, allowing their young to continue the annual cycle.

Nature’s Recycler

It’s pretty obvious to me why the American Burying Beetle needs to hang around and even prosper. I could go into a long explanation about the delicate ecosystems that surround us, and how we need to maintain and nurture them. I could expound tirelessly about how everything is interconnected as in the words of the World Wildlife Fund, “All that lives beneath Earth’s fragile canopy is, in some elemental fashion, related . . . If mankind continues to allow whole species to perish, when does their peril also become ours?” So true.

From a practical point of view, however – the American Burying Beetle is Nature’s Recycler. By burying dead animals, it helps return nutrients to the soil as well as eliminates unsightly, decomposing critters. The ABB also competes with other scavengers for food – as an example: the fly. If the ABB can beat a fly to its favorite food source, perhaps there will be fewer flies. I can’t remember a time when an American Burying Beetle ruined a picnic by buzzing around the potato salad. Just saying.

Fortunately a number of conservation groups including the Fish and Wildlife Service and zoos located in Cincinnati, St. Louis and Rhode Island, among others, have seen the value of this handsome little creature, and projects have been implemented in several states to enhance the ABB population.

Because of being declared an endangered species, re-population efforts are the best chance we have at saving this insect. It’s worth a shot and I’m all for it!

conservationSo, I think it’s safe to say that this nocturnal, flying, scavenger has captured my interest and respect – if not my heart. If there is one insect for which I have become a dedicated fan, this is it. I’m not saying I now embrace ALL insects with the same enthusiasm, but I’m working on it. Baby steps, people… baby steps.

Go team beetle. I’m cheering you on!

For more information on Nature’s Recycler:

The American Burying Beetle Release

American Burying Beetle Repopulation Project

Reintroduction in Missouri


Roger Williams Park Zoo

Laurence Billiet WordPress.com

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden


Fish and Wildlife Service

Virginia Tech Insect Biology

National Geographic

Karen BorejkaKaren Borejka, YPS Wildlife Editor, is a Volunteer Educator for the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, and is a member of the Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents and Volunteers (AZADV). She and her husband Vic are “bi-coastal” with a daughter on the east coast and a son on the west coast. Karen and her husband live in Cincinnati, OH with her mom Helen, and their 5 “fur-children” –2 dogs and 3 cats – all rescues. Karen can be reached through Facebook.


dog1Let me tell you the story of our dog, Hoagy.  We already had two dogs when my husband turned to me one day and said, “You know, I miss having a basset hound.”  Our previous basset, Ziggy, had passed away the year before from cancer, and we had lost his mate, Gushie, several years before that.  That spring we had already adopted two dogs (a Greyhound and a Brittany), but Dave just felt something was missing.  So I said, “Do what you need to do.  We have two–how hard could it be to have three?”

Famous last words, right?

Dave has a kind heart, so answered the ad of a woman living in a nearby city: “Basset Hound Free To A Good Home.”  He drove to meet her and picked up his new pet, who at that time was named “Taterbug”.

When the dog arrived, the white patches on his body looked yellow–especially a dark yellow one near his tail.  He smelled like fried food…and he was obviously overweight.  The first thing I asked Dave to do was take him up the street to the local dog wash.

A visit to to our vet a few days later confirmed our worst fears: he had apparently been free fed and tied outside for some time, as he was overweight, flea infested, had worms and an ear infection.  Dave was sent home with ear wash, worm treatments for all our dogs and instructions on how to make sure our house was flea free…as well as strict orders to measure all of the new dog’s meals and make sure he was getting regular exercise.

Undaunted, Dave did most of this work himself, and pleased at having another basset despite all the challenges, renamed his new pet Hoagy Dogmichael.  Over the next few months, Hoagy dropped weight as he could often be seen tagging along after the other dogs on our walks, his tail proudly waving like a flag behind him.  Dave faithfully cleaned his ears until he was no longer shaking his head with discomfort, and we kept a careful eye out, but no fleas (thankfully) appeared, either in our home or on our other pets.  The worming process completed, Hoagy shared the food the other dogs ate, and at first seemed to have come through his ordeal as a happy and healthy rescue.

Then, the digestive problems started…

Every few weeks, Hoagy would suddenly and inexplicably begin to vomit.  On one occasion, I came home early from work to find him sitting miserably in his crate, covered in both vomit and diarrhea, even though when we had left for work that morning, everything had seemed fine.

Since Dave and I are of the natural remedies first bent, we did some online research, and followed the tried and true method of getting the vomiting under control each time: 24 hours with no food, followed by a slow buildup of chicken broth, broth with rice, broth with rice and chicken, finally mixing in dog food…and then putting him back on straight dog food again after about a week.  This worked each time…but then several weeks later the vomiting cycle would start all over again.

We tried switching food to a more natural, high quality product, even more meat and less grain.  We tried adding digestive enzymes.  No, the cycle continued.  At last, we concluded that Hoagy had a digestive ailment as a result of his poor feeding with his previous owner, and that we’d just have to live with the result.

That is, until we got a phone call from Petbrosia, an affiliate we had only recently begun working with.  They offered to send us a 3-lb box of food for Hoagy–and custom mix it, just for him.  That’s when I went over to their website, and read this:

Petbrosia is the first pet food custom designed for the unique nutritional needs of each pet. Created by an entrepreneurial pet lover, Petbrosia’s goal is to provide a higher quality of life and improve the wellbeing of both pets and their owners.


You want to do what’s best for your pet. With nutrition designed to ideal body conditions, your pet can have a higher quality and potentially longer life.

– Keith Johnson, Founder of Petbrosia

I saw also: Every Petbrosia diet has added probiotic extracts and prebiotics. Prebiotics feed and encourage the growth of good bacteria in the colon. Good bacteria in the intestinal tract helps aid the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Perfect!  But would Hoagy like it?  There was only one way to find out…

So Petbrosia sent us a coupon code for the food.  And we quickly discovered that ordering from their website is fun as well as efficient. Using your pet’s breed, age, and weight, they provide a diet specifically for your pet’s unique health needs, addressing condition of skin and coat, energy level, dental care, healthy joints, strong immune system as well as optimal digestive system health and overall weight.

When Hoagy’s product arrived, we began mixing it with Hoagy’s present food.  Immediately, an interesting thing happened.  Not only did Hoagy pick out the pieces of Petbrosia food to eat first, but our other dogs were especially interested in trying to steal it!

And, I am very happy to report that since Hoagy has been on Petbrosia, his vomiting has stopped.  We couldn’t be more pleased that he is not going through the unpredictability and discomfort which he previously suffered.  As a courtesy, Petbrosia also offered to send some food to have our finicky cat, Cash, test as well–and he loves it also!

Your Pet Space is very happy to recommend this provider, not the least of which is because they have never been subject to a recall.


And—until the end of this month, you can even win free pet food from Petbrosia in our Pinterest Pin and Win Contest!  Here are the rules:

1.) Follow Your Pet Space on Pinterest!
2.) Create a board called “Your Pet Space Contest”.
3.) Pin your fav You Tube or personal pet video into that board for us to find.
4.) Enter the contest using this link: http://woobox.com/qnrkag

(Entries will be judged on funniest, or most unusual pet or pet behavior).

Have fun and good luck!

hoagy skinny (257 x 300)       I am Hoagy and I approve this message.

I am Cash and I approve this message. Cash 300

Total Recall


question markIf you’re like us, you’re appalled at the frequency and number of recalls on pet food in the US.  How can anyone keep up with it all?  We thought we’d start with a list of helpful links we encourage pet owners to check on a regular basis.

If you live in the United States, we suggest you start with the USFDA website, which contains an up to date list of every recall out there.  You can also find a wealth of information at the Humane Society of the US, including Tips To Protect Your Pets From Contaminated Food and Treats, Poisonous Foods to Pets, Poisonous Plants to Pets and Common Household Dangers to Pets.

We weren’t able to find any corresponding links for our readers logging in from India, Canada and the UK, but these might be a good place to start:

Food Safety and Standards Agency of India

Food Standards Agency of the UK

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

We would love to hear from our readers outside the US about any helpful links we can pass along to our readers.  Please comment here, or e-mail joy@yourpetspace.info







Finding The Best Vet

Vet questions: CaduceusWhen we polled our potential readers before opening Your Pet Space, we found one of the most important things to them was how to find the best vet. The worst time to find a new veterinarian is when your pet is having an emergency, so hopefully this will help you be prepared ahead of time.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is a good place to start.  They have a search feature that allows you to find accredited facilities in your area that have been evaluated on their facilities, staff, equipment and patient care.  You can also find vets that are open 24 hours or that specialize in areas such as dermatology, oncology or cardiology.  InfoVet of Canada also offers this service for our friends up north.  And for our friends in India, we recommend Bring Fido.

Another great way to find the right vet for your pet is to get recommendations from other pet owners who share your general philosophy (such as, if you don’t want your pet routinely vaccinated).  You could also ask local animal shelters, dog trainers, groomers or pet sitters.

But, once you find an accredited vet near you, how do you know it’s the right vet for you?

  • Arrange for a first appointment without your dog to speak with a veterinarian.
  • Once you’re there, check whether the space is clean, modern and well-organized.
  • Ask about whether vets on staff share responsibility and cover for each other during vacations or other absences.
  • Do you have good rapport with the vet? This is critical.
  • Ask questions! The best thing you can do as a pet parent is not be shy asking what you really want to know.

You may want to ask:

  • How are overnight patients monitored?
  • What sort of diagnostic and monitoring equipment does the practice use?
  • Does the vet refer patients to specialists?
  • How are patients evaluated before anesthesia and surgery?
  • Does the practice have licensed veterinary technicians on staff?
  • What is the protocol for pain management?
  • Does the practice offer emergency after hours treatment? If not, to whom do they refer?
  • What’s the average cost of routine procedures like wellness exams, titers and teeth cleaning?

Above all, don’t be afraid to change vets if you are not happy for any reason.  Trust your gut.  Your pet will thank you.