Species Profile

American Burying Beetle

Scientific Name: Nicrophorus americanus
Taxonomy Group: Arthropods
Range: Ontario, Quebec
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2011
Last COSEWIC Designation: Extirpated
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Extirpated

Go to advanced search

Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Reasons for extirpation | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of American Burying Beetle


The American Burying Beetle is a carrion-feeding beetle of the family Silphidae. The species is distinct and there are no proposed subspecies or species forms. It is one of the most striking beetle species in Canada due to its large size and the brilliant orange markings on its otherwise black body. (Updated 2017/08/11)


Distribution and Population

The species occurs only in North America, where its historical range extended from Nebraska and South Dakota east to the Atlantic Coast, and from southern Ontario south to Texas. In the United States it has been reported from 35 states, but it is considered extant in only 9--in all of which it is listed as endangered. In Canada, it is known definitely only from Ontario; however, all reports are historic, with the most recent collection in 1972. Reports for Nova Scotia and Quebec are considered errors, and the basis for the Manitoba report is unknown. It appears very unlikely that the American Burying Beetle has been present but undocumented anywhere within its range in the last quarter century. Natural re-colonizing by the species of its former range in Canada appears to be very unlikely. The species might be reintroduced from United States populations through captive breeding programs. (Updated 2017/08/11)



The species requires well-drained humic or loamy soils without impediments to digging in order to quickly excavate the brood chamber in which to lay its eggs. In eastern North America, soils of this type occur principally in primary, undisturbed deciduous forest. Toward the west side of its range these soils are available in grassland ecotypes as well. There is, as yet, no consensus on whether the species is obligate on particular habitat types. (Updated 2017/08/11)



The species has one generation over the period of a year, with individuals existing from the summer to their death in the following year. Individuals will typically have the opportunity to reproduce only once. Following emergence from the ground, in the late summer or early fall of the year in which it was laid, the teneral begins feeding and possibly searching for reproductive opportunities. In the fall of their first year they burrow into the ground to overwinter. The adults again emerge in the spring to feed and begin their evening search for a recently deceased suitable brood carcass. Sexton beetles (genus Nicrophorus) show biparental care to a unique degree for beetles. Reproduction is completely dependent upon the availability of a carcass which can be entombed in a manner suitable for feeding larvae. Vertebrate carcasses of any sort are used; however, bird chicks and rodents are probably most often employed. American Burying Beetle tends to use larger carcasses than its smaller congeners. When a suitable carcass is located the individual or pair will compete with other carrion-eating insects for possession of the carcass until a single pair remains. The carcass then may be moved as far as a metre until soil suitable for excavation is reached, then buried before the dawn. The species is not migratory, and its movements are limited. However, it does range more widely than its smaller congeners (i.e., species of the same genus), and likely across more habitat types. Adults begin their seasonal activities when the temperature exceeds 15°C. They are crepuscular and nocturnal, and generally active from April through September. (Updated 2017/08/11)


Reasons for extirpation

There is ongoing discussion regarding the cause of the decline in the range and abundance of the American Burying Beetle. There are a number of hypotheses, many of which are unconvincing due to the apparent lack of impact on congeners of similar behaviour and requirements. It seems unlikely that any one factor is responsible for the species’ decline. Direct impacts are thought to have been: the use of artificial lighting, which may affect the species’ behaviour, roadkill of wandering adults, and mortality due to the use of insecticides. Species-specific diseases have been considered, but there is no evidence to support this mechanism as likely. Direct predation seems likely to have played a part, given the increase in appropriate predators over the species’ range, but is not thought to be the major cause of the decline either of the species or its supply of brood carcasses. The increase in predacious, free-ranging domestic dogs and cats, which likely disturb carcasses, may be a factor. Reduction of brood carcass resources may be a major factor. This reduction is thought to have come about due to the decreased populations of species of appropriate size for brood carcasses, and increased competition with scavenging animals and the more abundant congeners. Reduction in the use of waste meat dumps and cessation of using whole fish as fertilizer will also have reduced carrion resources available to the beetles. Habitat alteration and fragmentation is generally considered to be the primary cause for decline. Fragmentation increases the need for species’ movement across unsuitable habitats and over roads. The development of dense understory in cleared forest areas increases the difficulty of burying the brood carcass, and hence the vulnerability of the beetle pair to predation. (Updated 2017/08/11)



Federal Protection

The American Burying Beetle is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

6 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - American Burying Beetle (2013)

    There is sufficient information to document that no individuals of the wildlife species remain alive in Canada.  This includes that it: (1) is a large distinctive and conspicuous insect not seen for 39 generations; (2) has not been seen despite a tenfold increase in the number of field entomologists and an estimated 300,000 general trap nights at which at least some should have resulted in capture of  this species, as well as studies of carrion-feeding beetles that did not reveal it; (3) comes to lights yet still not seen in thousands of light traps; and (4) a recent directed search in the general area where last seen 60 and 39 years ago that failed to find this species.


  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2016)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of assessments conducted under subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2017)

    Biodiversity is rapidly declining worldwide as species become extinct. Today’s extinction rate is estimated to be between 1 000 and 10 000 times higher than the natural rate. Biodiversity is positively related to ecosystem productivity, health and resiliency (i.e. the ability of an ecosystem to respond to changes or disturbances), and, given the interdependency of species, a loss of biodiversity can lead to decreases in ecosystem function and services (e.g. natural processes such as pest control, pollination, coastal wave attenuation, temperature regulation and carbon fixing). These services are important to the health of Canadians, and also have important ties to Canada’s economy. Small changes within an ecosystem resulting in the loss of individuals and species can therefore result in adverse, irreversible and broad-ranging effects. List of Wildlife Species at Risk (referral back to COSEWIC) Order

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2011-2012 (2012)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (September 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012) from November 21 to 25, 2011 and from April 29 to May 4, 2012. On February 3, 2012, an Emergency Assessment Subcommittee of COSEWIC also assessed the status of the Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus), the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), and the Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis). During the current reporting period COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 67 wildlife species. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2011-2012 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 1 Extirpated: 4 Endangered: 29 Threatened: 10 Special Concern: 15 Data Deficient: 2 Not at Risk: 6 Total: 67 Of the 67 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 49 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment (see Table 1a).

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – December 2012 (2013)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 4, 2013, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. Consultation paths.