American Burying Beetle (ABB)

Nicrophorus americanus Olivier, 1790

Family Silphidae, Subfamily Nicrophorinae

Type locality: "Ame’rique, New Jersey"

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The American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) was federally listed in 1989 as an endangered species, the first beetle so listed.

The ABB was historically recorded from at least 150 counties in 35 states in the eastern and central United States, as well as southeastern Canada.

The American Burying Beetle is the largest carrion-frequenting insect in North America.

Burying beetles are one of the few examples of bi-parental care in insects outside of the social insects.

The American Burying Beetle is the only member of its genus, Nicrophorus, to have a red pronotum and frons.


American burying beetle - Nicrophorus americanus American burying beetle - Nicrophorus americanus American burying beetle - Nicrophorus americanus - male - female American burying beetle - Nicrophorus americanus American Burying Beetle - Nicrophorus americanus - male

Video attaching tiny transmitters onto endangered American Burying Beetles to determine whether the beetles can fly with it - STLtoday.com


Historical and Current Range of the American Burying Beetle in the United States

Current Range of the American Burying Beetle - Central United States

Current Range of the American Burying Beetle - Eastern United States

County Records for ABB in Oklahoma, Confirmed, Unconfirmed, and Likely - 2005


The American Burying Beetle An endangered species - Brett Ratcliffe

American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) in Oklahoma - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - 2003

American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) Recovery Plan - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - 1991

Center for Conservation of the American Burying Beetle - Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri

The American Burying Beetle Recovery Program - Roger Williams Park Zoo - Providence, RI

American Burying Beetle - South Dakota Field Office, FWS

Key to Nicrophorus spp. in eastern Oklahoma & western Arkansas

Description of Nicrophorus spp. in eastern Oklahoma & western Arkansas

REPORT: A survey for American burying beetles in Southwest Missouri (none were captured) - M. Christopher Barnhart and Robert Brown

American Burying Beetle - Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife


Behavioral Studies 


Literature of the Subfamily Nicrophorinae Kirby, 1837

Nicrophorinae Literature Database (expired link)

This literature database is based on the combined, unpublished bibliographies of Drs. Ronald Madge, Alfred Newton, Stephen Trumbo, and others, with additions and modifications by Derek Sikes. Comments (in red) were written by Derek Sikes. There are currently over 950 records in the database as well as approximately 200 references with complete abstracts.


Nicrophorus americanus Olivier, 1790

Nicrophorus carolinus (Linnaeus, 1771)

Nicrophorus marginatus Fabricius, 1801

Nicrophorus mexicanus Matthews, 1888

Nicrophorus orbicollis Say, 1825

Nicrophorus pustulatus Herschel, 1807

Nicrophorus tomentosus Weber, 1801
Necrodes surinamensis (Fabricius, 1775)
Necrophila americana (Linnaeus, 1759)
Oiceoptoma inaequale (Fabricius, 1781)

Oiceoptoma noveboracense (Forster, 1771)

Oiceoptoma rugulosum (Portevin, 1903)
**Oxelytrum discicolle (Brullé, 1836)
Thanatophilus truncatus (Say, 1823)

**The published record for the O. discicolle is considered dubious


Prior to 2003, there was a single known specimen of the American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) attributed to Texas. It is deposited in the Cornell University Insect Collection. The specimen has three labels as follows:

"Kingsville, Tex., C. T. Reed Coll., Cornell Univ., Lot 912 Sub
Nicrophorus americanus, Det. R. H. Arnett, Jr. 1941
Nicrophorus americanus Ol., det. R. Madge."


According to Horace R. Burke (Professor Emeritus, Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University, pers. comm., 2004), Theodore Reed (1891-1985) was an incessant traveler, collector and scholar. He either attended, taught or administered at universities in Kansas, Maryland, New York, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Istanbul (Turkey!), Texas, (Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, & Kingsville), Tennessee, Arkansas, and Florida from 1910 to 1944! In addition to insects, Reed collected bird skins, eggs and molluscs. He was interested in marine biology, botany, poetry, and religion as well as entomology. 

Reed probably collected (or traded for) the ABB specimen during the period of time when he lived within the known ABB range. "Kingsville, Tex" is the location that Cornell placed on the lot of unlabeled specimens that Reed donated to Cornell. This locality was most likely a product of Reed's most recent address prior to arriving at Cornell.


There is a literature record for a second specimen collected in "Texas" with no further label data. It is listed as being deposited in the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS). I contacted the INHS in March 2004, but the collection manager said he could find no such record among their N. americanus specimens.


1790 - Nicrophorus americanus described from a specimen collected in "Ame’rique, New Jersey"

1920 - Number of extant localities for the ABB  reaches its peak and begins a steady decline

1952 - Perhaps the last sizeable series of ABB, 29 specimens, esat of the Mississippi was collected about 8 mi. SE.. of Camden, Benton Co., Tennessee

1974  - Last known mainland occurrence of the ABB east of the Mississippi River collected near Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Co., Ohio

1979 - Karl Stephan collected an ABB at lights in his backyard in Latimer Co., Oklahoma

1982 - Anderson publishes first paper drawing attention to the decline of the ABB

1989 - Became first beetle added to the Endangered Species List, only known populations in Block Island, Rhode Island and Oklahoma

1990 - ABB surveys initiated in Missouri, (none found to date)

1991 - ABB recovery plan approved.

1991 - Captive breeding program begun at the Cincinnati Zoo, Ohio

1992 - ABB collected in Nebraska and Arkansas

1994 - Captive breeding program began at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, Rhode Island

1994 - ABB reintroduction program initiated on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

1995 - 41 specimens of ABB collected in South Dakota

1997 - ABB collected in Kansas

1998 - ABB reinitroduction program initiated in Ohio. Wild ABBs collected from Fort Chaffee, Arkansas and released into southeastern Ohio

2003 - First record for the ABB collected in Texas

2012 - First-in-the-nation conservation/mitigation bank established for the ABB in Oklahoma


Selected Bibliography (Papers listed chronologically within each section)

Creighton, J.C., M.V. Lomolino & G.D. Schnell. 1993. Survey methods for the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Oklahoma Biological Survey, Norman, OK.

Neal, J.C., M.E. Stewart, and W.G. Montague. 1994. Burying beetle (Coleoptera: Silphidae, Nicrophorus surveys on Poteau Ranger District, Ouachita NF. Proceedings of the Arkansas Academy of Science 48: 127-129.

Carlton, C.E., & F. Rothwein. 1998. The endangered American burying beetle (Coleoptera: Silphidae: Nicrophorus americanus at the edge of its range in Arkansas. Coleopterists' Bulletin 52(2): 179-185.

Lingafelter, S.W. & W. Busby. 1992. Report of the status of the American burying beetle (Coleoptera: Silphidae: Nicrophorus americanus) in eastern Kansas, with notes on the presence of all species of Silphidae. Rep. United States Fish Wildlife Department, Kansas Biological Survey.

Lingafelter, S.W. & W.H. Busby. 1993. Report of the status of the American burying beetle (Coleoptera: Silphidae: Nicrophorus americanus) in Central and South-central Kansas, with notes on presence of all species of Silphidae. Report to the United States Fish Wildlife Department, Kansas Biological Survey.

Lingafelter, S.W. 1995. Diversity habitat preferences, and seasonality of Kansas carrion beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 68: 214-223.

Guarisco, H. 1997. Discovery of the federally endangered American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) in the Chautauqua Hills of southeastern Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 100: 116-122.

Miller, E.J. & L. McDonald. 1997. Rediscovery of Nicrophorus americanus Olivier (Coleoptera Silphidae) in Kansas. The Coleopterists' Bulletin 5(1): 22.

Simpson, K.B. 1991. American burying beetle, Nicrophorus americanus (Olivier), (Coleoptera: Silphidae) survey in Missouri. Report to Missouri Department of Conservation. 6 pp.

Barnhart, C.M. & R. Brown. 2002. A Survey For American Burying Beetles In Southwest Missouri. Report to Missouri Department of Conservation. 8 pp.

Ratcliffe, B.C. 1990. A survey to determine the occurrence of Nicrophorus americanus Olivier (the American burying beetle) in the Sargent Irrigation District. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Ratcliffe, B.C. & M.L. Jameson. 1992. New Nebraska occurrences of the endangered American burying beetle (Coleoptera: Silphidae). Coleopterists' Bulletin 46(4): 421-425.

Ratcliffe B. 1996. The carrion beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae) of Nebraska. Bulletin of the University of Nebraska State Museum 13: 1-100.

Bedick, J.C., B.C. Ratcliffe, W. Wyatt Hoback, and L.G. Higley. 1999. Distribution, ecology, and population dynamics of the American burying beetle, [Nicrophorus americanus Olivier (Coleoptera, Silphidae)] in south-central Nebraska, USA. Journal of Insect Conservation 3(3):171-181.

Jurzenski, J. 2012. Factors affecting the distribution and survival of endangered American burying beetles, Nicrophorus americanus Olivier. PhD Dissertation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska. xviii + 264 pp.

Keeney, G. & D. Horn. 1998. American burying beetle returning to Ohio. Ohio Coleopterist 5: 1.

Quisenberry, S. C. & B. Purcell. 1993. New Record for the American Burying Beetle (Necrophorus americanus) in Bryan County, OK. Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science, 73: 77.

Creighton, J.C., M.V. Lomolino & G.D. Schnell. 1993. Survey methods for the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Oklahoma Biological Survey, Norman, OK.

Creighton, J.C., C.C. Vaughn & B.R. Chapman. 1993. Habitat Preference of the Endangered American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) in Oklahoma. Southwestern Naturalist 38(3): 275-277.

Mann, C.C. and M.L. Plummer. 1995. Noah's Choice: The Future of Endangered Species. Alfred Knopf, New York. 302 pp.

Lomolino, M.V., J.C. Creighton, G.D. Schnell, & D.L. Certain. 1995. Ecology and conservation of the endangered American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus). Conservation Biology 9(3): 605-614.

Lomolino, M.V., & J.C. Creighton. 1996. Habitat selection and breeding success of the endangered American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus). Biological Conservation 77: 235-241.

Holloway, A.K. & G.D. Schnell. 1997. Relationship between numbers of the endangered American burying beetle Nicrophorus americanus Olivier (Coleoptera: Silphidae) and available food resources. Biological Conservation 81: 145-152.

Creighton, J.C. & G.D. Schnell. 1998. Short-term movement patterns of the endangered American burying beetle Nicrophorus americanus. Biological Conservation 86: 281-287.

Link to 73 ABB publications compiled by the Oklahoma Biological Survey, 1993-2012

Prospero, M.L. 1999. Roger Williams Park Zoo and the American Burying Beetle Nicrophorus americanus, How It Works and What It Costs. Invertebrates In Captivity Conference 1999 Conference Proceedings.

Backlund, D.C. & G.M. Marrone. 1997. New records of the endangered American burying beetle, Nicrophorus americanus Olivier, (Coleoptera: Silphidae) in South Dakota. The Coleopterists' Bulletin 51(1): 53-58.

William B. Godwin & Volha Minich. 2005. Status of the American Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus americanus Olivier,  (Coleoptera: Silphidae) at Camp Maxey, Lamar County, Texas. Interagency Final Report to Texas Army National Guard. 19 pp.

Olivier, A.G. 1790. Entomologie, ou histoire naturelle des insectes, avec leurs caracteres génériques et spécifiques, leur description, leur synonymie, et leur figure enluminée. Coléoptères Vol. 2, Nos. 9-34.

Pukowski, E. 1933. Okoloische untersuchungen an Necrophorus. [English translation.] Z. Morphol. Oekol. Tiere, 27: 518-586.

Davis, L.R., Jr. 1980. Notes on beetle distributions, with a discussion of Nicrophorus americanus Olivier and its abundance in collections (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae, Lampyridae, and Silphidae). Coleopterists' Bulletin 34(2): 245-251.

Anderson, R.S. 1982. On the Decreasing Abundance of Nicrophorus americanus Olivier (Coleoptera: Silphidae) in Eastern North America. Coleopterists' Bulletin 36(2): 362-365.

Schweitzer, D.F. & L.L. Master. 1987. Nicrophorus americanus (American burying beetle): results of a global status survey. The Nature Conservancy, Eastern Heritage Task Force, Boston, MA. 13 pp.

Kozol, A.J., M.P. Scott, & J.F.A. Traniello. 1989 (1988). The American burying beetle, Nicrophorus americanus: Studies on the natural history of a declining species. Psyche 95: 167-176.

Amaral, M. & L. Morse, 1990. Reintroducing the American Burying Beetle. Endangered Species Bulletin 15(10): 3.

Kozol, A.J. 1990. Suggested survey protocol for Nicrophorus americanus, the American burying beetle. Dissertation, Boston University. 164 pp.

Raithel, C. 1991. American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) recovery plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 5. Newton Corner, MA. 80 pp.

Creamer, K.D. 1993. Husbandry and display techniques of the American burying beetle Nicrophorus americanus. AAZPA Regional Proceedings 1993: 136-141.

Kozol, A.J., J.F.A. Traniello, S.M. Williams. 1994. Genetic variation in the endangered burying beetle Nicrophorus americanus (Coleoptera: Silphidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 6:928-935.

Amaral, M., A. Kozol, & T. French. 1997. Conservation status and reintroduction of the endangered American burying beetle. Northeastern Naturalist 4(3): 121-132.

Szalanski, A.L., D.S. Sikes, R. Bischof, & M. Fritz. 2000. Population genetics and phylogenetics of the endangered American burying beetle, Nicrophorus americanus (Coleoptera: Silphidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America  93:589-594.

Sikes, D.S., and C.J. Raithel. 2002. A review of hypotheses of decline of the endangered American burying beetle (Silphidae: Nicrophorus americanas Olivier). Journal of Insect Conservation 6: 103–113.

Bedick, J.C., B.C. Ratcliffe, & L.G. Higley. 2004. A new sampling protocol for the endangered American burying beetle, Nicrophorus americanus Olivier (Coleoptera: Silphidae). The Coleopterists Bulletin, 58(1): 57-70.

Walker, T.L., and W.W. Hoback. 2006. Attempted use of radio telemetry to determine habitat preferences and movements of American burying beetles. Prairie Invaders: Proceedings of the 20th North American Prairie Conference 20: 141–150.

Jurzenski, J. and W.W. Hoback. 2011. Opossums and leopard frogs consume the federally endangered American burying beetle (Coleoptera: Silphidae). The Coleopterists Bulletin 65(1): 88-90.

Walker, T.J., Jr. 1957. Ecological studies of the arthropods associated with certain decaying materials in four habitats. Ecology 38: 262-276.

Newton, A.F. & S.B. Peck. 1975 . Baited pitfall traps for beetles. Coleopterists' Bulletin 29: 45-46.

Shubeck, P.P., N.M. Downie, R.L. Wenzel & S.B. Peck. 1981. Species composition and seasonal abundance of carrion beetles in an oak-beech forest in the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (N.J.). Entomological News 92: 7-16.

Anderson, R.S. 1982. Burying Beetle Larvae: Nearctic Nicrophorus and Oriental Ptomascopus morio (Silphidae). Systematic Entomology 7: 249-264.

Peck, S.B. & R.S. Anderson. 1985. Taxonomy, phylogeny and biogeography of the carrion beetles of Latin America (Coleoptera: Silphidae). Quaestiones Entomologicae 21: 247-317.

Peck, S.B. 1986. Nicrophorus (Silphidae) can use large carcasses for reproduction (Coleoptera). Coleopterists' Bulletin 40: 44.

Peck, S.B. & M.M. Kaulbars. 1987. A synopsis of the distribution and bionomics of the carrion beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae) of the conterminous United States. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Ontario 118: 47-81.

Peck, S.B. & S.E. Miller. 1993. A catalog of the Coleoptera of America north of Mexico. Family: Silphidae. U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC (Agriculture Handbook 529-28). x + 24 pp.

Scott, M.P. 1998. The ecology and behavior of burying beetles. Annual Review of Entomology 43: 595-618.

Sikes, D.S., R.B. Madge & A.F. Newton. 2002. A Catalog of the Nicrophorinae (Coleoptera: Silphidae) of the World. Magnolia Press, Auckland, New Zealand. 304 pp.


01 June 2014 ©  Mike Quinn / Texas Entomology / Texas Beetle Resources