By Jann Rose, Natural Resources Specialist II

From June 7th to 24th, 2009, Dalton Abrams, a student with the Environmental and Natural Resource (ENR) Department, worked beside Dr. Daniel Howard of the University of Toronto and Carrie Hall of Idaho State University, performing surveillance on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve for the American Burying Beetle (ABB). The ABB has been listed as an endangered species since 1989. It once ranged across all of the eastern U.S., but is currently found in only 6 states, including Oklahoma. The ABB is a nocturnal beetle that plays an important role on the Reservation by breaking down and recycling decaying matter. The ABB is a unique species in that both parents provide care to their offspring, which is an extremely rare trait in the insect world.

Abrams, along with three ENR employees, constructed pitfall traps at 94 sites across the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. After all the pitfall traps had been prepared, Abrams was assigned four sites (32 total traps) to bait. When an ABB was successfully collected in the traps, Abrams clipped a small notch in the outer wing, or elytra, and glued a small, numbered tag onto the outer shell, or pronotum. Clipping and tagging the ABB allowed for the individual to be correctly identified if collected later in the surveillance. Abrams also learned how to correctly determine the sex of each ABB. After the ABB’s were tagged for identification and sex was determined, they were released.

The ABB surveillance completed on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest ever completed in Oklahoma. Working with Dr. Howard and Ms. Hall, Abrams learned more than how to prepare and successfully trap ABB’s. Abrams learned there are many important components to a functional ecosystem including the visible fire, rain, wildlife, and plant components as well as the less visible insect components. ENR is proud to have contributed to an effort that will shed light on the intricate fabric of life that makes up our Reservation.