Scientifically Speaking: American burying beetle

American burying beetle
This is an image of American burying beetles at Roger Williams Zoo. (WLNE)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — It’s a face only a bug person would love. Even though the American burying beetle is not super charismatic, it is a very special insect.

Found mainly on Block Island, the American burying beetle is the rarest insect in North America. It is also the state insect of Rhode Island. Since 1994, the conservation program at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence has reared 5,000 American burying beetles.

The program has released 2,800 of them on Nantucket, creating a stabilized population there. This fascinating beetle has a very specialized purpose. It’s a type of carrion beetle. Meaning one of the species that recycles dead animals, mainly birds and small mammals, up to 200 times its own weight.

The loss of its main feeding birds — passenger pigeons — to extinction and habitat loss are the main reasons for its now precarious state.

The American burying beetle is listed federally as endangered as the population has been declining for more than 100 years.

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