COBLESKILL, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Work is underway at SUNY Cobleskill to save the American burying beetle from going extinct. Earlier this year, SUNY Cobleskill’s Environmental Management Program was awarded $140,026 through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Challenge Grant initiative to reintroduce the beetle into New York State. 

The large shiny black beetles marked with orange patterns have been roaming the planet since the age of dinosaurs, but in 1989, they were added to the endangered species list.

“I want to point out which I think is really cool about our efforts here at SUNY Cobleskill, the three other reintroduction attempts throughout the U.S. are all associated with zoos. This is the only project since 1989 that’s being done at a university,” said Dr. Brandon Quinby.

The American burying beetle is known for their breeding habits. Parents will look for decomposing animals, bury them, and use it to feed their larvae. 

Dr. Quinby has been studying the beetle for fifteen years. His education has taken him all over the country to further understand the complicated creature. He’s working alongside Dr. Carmen Greenwood, students and a talented team of scientists on the project.

“In the last decade or so, we’ve seen a vast number of insect species in decline. In the case of the American burying beetle, it’s die-off was closely related to that of the passenger pigeon, which was a main source of breeding support for the beetle,” said Dr. Carmen Greenwood, associate professor of Fisheries, Wildlife & Environmental Science at SUNY Cobleskill.

As part of the first step of the grant funding, a breeding colony of beetles was brought to SUNY Cobleskill from Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, R.I., where species conservation efforts are also underway. The group at SUNY Cobleskill is currently studying sister species of the beetle before they will begin the breeding process.

The beetle used to cover 35 states and three Canadian provinces. By 1989, it was known in Oklahoma and Block Island, R.I. There are now confirmed populations in nine states. 

“By the looks of things we’ll probably be reintroducing the American burying beetles to New York in 2023 and monitoring them throughout that reintroduction, carrying it into the future,” said Dr. Quinby.