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Act Like a Beetle

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Monday, December 22, 2014

Recently, our education staff worked with third and fourth grade students in the SEEK (Science Enrichment Education for Kids) program of the 4-H Arkansas Outdoor School geared toward science education for home-schooled students at the Arkansas 4-H Center in Ferndale.

As part of their study of arthropods, our staff introduced the students to Arkansas’s only endangered insect – the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus). The decline of the American burying beetle has been attributed to habitat loss and land use changes. They now occur in over less than 10 percent of their historic range, including western Arkansas.

American burying beetles are carrion (decaying flesh) eaters and are remarkably adept at detecting the odor of recent death. Using the organs of smell located on their antennae, they can find a dead mouse within an hour of death and from as far away as 2 miles. After flying to the carcass, a male/female pair will go under the body, turn over on their backs, and lift the remains. Carcasses may weigh up to 200 times a beetle's own weight. The beetles lift the carcass by balancing it above them, then walking their legs to move the load forward as if on a conveyor belt.

The students examined preserved specimens and learned about beetles’ life cycle and adaptations. They were excited to mimic the food moving behavior, using a large pillow as their “carcass” and trying to move food like a burying beetle.

Students mimicking beetles moving "food".

Students examining preserved specimens.

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