URI Student spends summer researching American burying beetle on Block Island

URI Student spends summer researching
American burying beetle on Block Island

KINGSTON, R.I. — Nov. 6, 2001 — Dan Linden, a wildlife biology major in his junior year at the University of Rhode Island, spent the summer on Block Island studying the American burying beetle as part of URI’s Coastal Fellows Program.

Linden, a Warwick resident, worked with Ming Lee Prospero, a graduate student at URI, and Chris Raithyl, an endangered species specialist for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. They studied the endangered American burying beetle, a rare species found only on Block Island and some small places in the Midwest.

“We worked under (URI Natural Resource Science Professor) Tom Husband to determine the success rates of reintroducing the American burying beetle into the wild, specifically on Nantucket,” said Linden. “We compared the breeding of burying beetles on Block Island, where they are naturally found, and Nantucket, where they used to be found.”

The American burying beetle is a carrion beetle, which means it eats dead meat. In the breeding process, the beetle finds a dead animal of a certain size and uses it to attract a mate. The male and female beetle then work together to bury the meat in the ground. They then strip the meat of its covering (i.e. fur, feathers) and coat it with a substance to preserve it. The female beetle lays up to 20 eggs and feeds the young beetles the meat.

“The female beetle’s behavior is comparable to the behavior of a mother bird to her chicks. This behavior is uncommon in invertebrates,” Linden said.

After the larvae have eaten the meat, they remain in the ground until they have grown to adult size. This place in the ground is called a brood chamber. When the beetles reach their adult size, they dig straight up from the brood chamber and the cycle begins again.

“The experiment on Block Island was to research the breeding success rate of the burying beetles. For the experiment, Chris and Ming took quail meat, dug a hole and put a male and female burying beetle in the ground. They repeated this step 32 times,” Linden explained. “During August, every morning, afternoon and at dusk, I checked the traps for beetles.”

Out of the 32 traps, 2 traps did not have beetles come out of them. In total, there were 260 beetles that hatched from this experiment. Linden is not surprised.

“We knew they would do well on Block Island. They’re found there already. If you compared the results with Nantucket, the success rate there would be considerably less because we are reintroducing the beetle to that environment,” said Linden.

Funding for Linden’s research was provided by the Rhode Island Agricultural Experiment Station through the URI Coastal Fellows Program, a unique program designed to involve undergraduate students in addressing current environmental problems. Now in its sixth year, the Coastal Fellows Program teams students with faculty, research staff and graduate students to help them gain skills that will ensure their future success.

“The Coastal Fellowship allowed me to experience hands on fieldwork, and also to meet professors in the department and see the research they are coordinating,” said Linden. “It has helped me to see future work that I could get involved with.”

For Information: Sarah Emmett, 401-874-2116