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Endangered species law under attack

Jean Henri Fabre, the “humble chronicler of the common place” as an American naturalist called him, studied and wrote voluminously about the life and behavior of insects.
One of his essays describe a colorful beetle with a shining, orange-spotted black body, which also exists in the U.S.
Its name, “burying beetle,” aptly describes its sanitation work in the landscape. It entombs, as food for its offspring, small animal corpses which an exceptional odor perception enables it to locate.
A dead mole or field mouse, lizard, frog or small bird – “what will become of their bodies and so many other pitiful remnants of life?” Fabre asks in the essay.
Because of nature’s undertakers like the beetle, he responds, they will not sicken us, their “horrible putrescence” is transformed by the insects into nutriments for new life.
He describes the beetles at work. Stout shovels on their claws dig away the soil under a corpse. A male and female work together, typically alone but seeking or accepting help from others of their kin if the body is too large. Continually heaved and tugged as the soil is excavated beneath, the body gradually descends into its grave, soil slipping back from the sides to cover it. A burial mound remains as the only trace of the rank body’s “final deliverance.”
Studies by contemporary entomologists confirm Fabre’s observation of burying beetles’ remarkable parental care for their young. The grave-digger father, he remarks, “has nothing of the happy-go-lucky parental carelessness that is the general rule among insects.”
He guards the burial site from intruders. The female, having laid her eggs on the carcass, stays in what quickly becomes a thriving nursery.
Only upon full development of the caterpillars, as they crawl into the soil to pupate, do the parent beetles decide that “everything is in order [and] the couple go forth, dissolving their relationship.”
Fabre found puzzling, however, the beetle’s mysterious ability to convert to living, healthy flesh a corpse’s rotting meat, which would be “deadly to any other stomach.”
To this question a book published last year, “The Forest Unseen,” provides an answer. Its author, George Haskell of the University of the South, relates another, more familiar scavenger animal’s astounding digestive prowess.
The turkey vulture’s digestive secretions are of such potency as to “burn away microbes in battery acid” and kill even anthrax spores and cholera bacteria. It, too, is a purifier of our fields and forests.
The American burying beetle is a federally listed, endangered species since 1989. Common in the eastern U.S. earlier, it had by then disappeared from most eastern states. Preservation of another carrion eater – the California condor – is among the well-known success stories of the Endangered Species law. From a remnant 27 birds in the 1980s, under the law’s protection its numbers have increased to more than 400 in 2013.
This valuable federal law is under attack again. “Management Self-Determination” bills introduced in the Senate and House would automatically remove from ESA protection any plant or animal not fully recovered after five years of being listed.