With its shiny, black and fiery body and orange-tipped antennae, the American burying beetle is a vibrant beauty of the bug world. The insect’s occupation, though, is a little less glamorous. After sniffing out a freshly dead animal from up to two miles away, the beetle joins a mate in burying the carcass, stripping it of fur or feathers, rolling it into a ball, and covering it in oral and anal fluids to preserve it as a shelter and food source for the pair’s litter of lucky larvae.

While this beetle’s nesting ritual is a little on the noir side, it’s also critical to the function of the ecosystems it inhabits. The American burying beetle is one of nature’s most efficient recyclers, feeding and sheltering its own brood while simultaneously returning nutrients to the earth to nourish vegetation and keeping ant and fly populations in check. Unfortunately, the beetle’s own populations — which once flourished in 35 U.S. states, plus parts of Canada — were in dramatic decline throughout most of the 20th century due to a complex list of threats, with habitat loss, pesticides and disease likely topping it.

Today the American burying beetle is hailed as an Endangered Species Act success story, having bounced back from just one known population at the time of its listing in 1989 to six native and introduced populations. But the beetle isn’t safe from extinction yet. Some of its last remaining habitat — as well as habitat for other rare species, like prairie dogs, whose carcasses are prime burying-beetle sustenance — are in the way of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. This proposed project would bring oil to Texas refineries from Canada’s tar sands — widely considered the dirtiest oil on the planet — and it’s being rushed through the approval process without adequate environmental review. So the Center and allies — including thousands of individuals — are telling the president to stop Keystone XL now.

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1989 federal Endangered Species Act listing




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Contact: Noah Greenwald

Photo courtesy South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks