You are here: Home / Users / / Burying beetle potentially making a splash in medical field

Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Burying beetle potentially making a splash in medical field

STILLWATER, Okla. – The medical world may be getting some help from an unlikely friend in the future – the American Burying Beetle.
Burying beetle potentially making a splash in medical field

Wyatt Hoback

Once one of the most common insect species in North America, occurring in 35 states, the beetles can now only be found in seven. Oklahoma is on the short list of states where the American Burying Beetles still call home, with a strong population in the eastern portion of the state.

Recognizable by their black and orange colors, the night-active species can grow to about 2-inches long and occur primarily in forested areas. These beetles will find a small dead animal, like a mouse or bird, bury it in the ground and raise its offspring on it.

“The male and female will get underneath the dead animal and do pushups to see how much it weighs,” said Wyatt Hoback, assistant professor in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. “If it’s the right size, they’ll start digging a hole under there and the animal will fall into the hole.”

This is an impressive feat on its own, considering many times the animal being buried will weigh between 100 times to 200 times more than the beetles. That is the equivalent of a 200-pound man burying a 20,000-pound object, in about an hour.

After burial, the beetles remove hair or feathers and then coat the carcass with saliva, which prevents bacteria and fungi from growing. It is this fact Hoback, John Gustafson, head of OSU’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and University of New Mexico researcher, Immo Hansen, are most interested.

“We have dissected burying beetles and pulled their salivary glands,” Hoback said. “Now molecular analysis will be done in an attempt to determine which proteins are responsible for the antimicrobial activity.”

As the only federally endangered insect in the state, the American Burying Beetle could prove to be vitally important for many areas of the world.

“Someday we might be able to use it for treating human bacterial infections or as a preservative for meat at room temperature,” Hoback said. “That’s a huge issue worldwide … being able to preserve fresh meat without access to refrigeration.”


Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Higher Education Act), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal and state laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, genetic information, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or status as a veteran, in any of its policies, practices or procedures.  This provision includes, but is not limited to admissions, employment, financial aid, and educational services. The Director of Equal Opportunity, 408 Whitehurst, OSU, Stillwater, OK 74078-1035; phone 405-744-5371; email: has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies: Director of Equal Opportunity. Any person (student, faculty, or staff) who believes that discriminatory practices have been engaged in based on gender may discuss his or her concerns and file informal or formal complaints of possible violations of Title IX with OSU’s Title IX Coordinator 405-744-9154.

Sean Hubbard
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
145 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-4490
Fax: 405-744-5739

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078