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What Is the State Insect of Rhode Island? History, Symbolism, & FAQ

American burying beetle

Like other states, Rhode Island has several state symbols. For instance, the American Burying Beetle¹ is the official state insect designated on July 14, 2015 by Governor Gina Raimondo.

The American Burying Beetle is a large black and orange insect found in many areas of the United States but is most common in the Eastern part of North America. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about this insect and how it came to be Rhode Island’s state symbol.

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How Was the State Insect of Rhode Island decided?

A third-grade class from St. Michael’s Country Day School in Newport¹ suggested that the official state insect of Rhode Island should be the American Burying Beetle. This species was chosen because it’s a native beetle in danger of extinction¹.

The students made this crucial decision after learning that their state (Rhode Island) was among a few states that didn’t have a state insect. Before choosing the American Burying Beetle, they had other suggestions for a state insect. These included:

A conservationist at the Roger Williams Park Zoo also wanted to popularize the endangered American Burying Beetle. He also worked with the third-grade class in his efforts to have this insect named the official state insect in Rhode Island.

The teachers, Linda Spinney and Lorie Loughborough, only wanted to teach the students how the legislative procedure operates. But to their utter amazement, the petition surpassed their expectations.

The petition was taken to the House of Representatives. After that, it went to the Senate and lastly to the then-Governor Gina Raimondo. She signed it in 2015, making the American Burying Beetle the official state insect of Rhode Island.

A Short History About the American Burying Beetle

The American Burying Beetle was once commonly found throughout the east coast of North America. It was also prevalent on the southern borders of three Canadian provinces and in 35 American states.

It was common in sandy areas, near rivers or streams, but its populations have dwindled due to habitat loss. Today, it’s found in only six states¹.

Importance of the American Burying Beetles to the Ecosystem

The American Burying Beetle is a small insect that benefits the ecosystem in a great way. They are one of only two species that can eat carrion (the other being the praying mantis).

These beetles are also known for their ability to clear out dead animals from the environment, thus keeping the ecosystem balanced. They eat diseased plants and insects that would otherwise damage trees and other plants. Dead decomposing plants and animals cause pollution.

The American burying beetle may also help break down organic matter from dead creatures¹. Then, it recycles the organic matter into helpful nutrients essential for plant growth.

The beetles also help control pests like flies, ants, and other insects, which are attracted to dead, decomposing animals.

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Why Is the American Burying Beetle Endangered?

Habitat loss is the most significant threat¹ to the American burying beetles. The beetles live in abandoned fields and roadsides. They dig tunnels under the soil to escape predators and find food. As fields are plowed up or leveled for development, the beetles’ homes are destroyed.

Farmers also kill them when killing other pests like grasshoppers or caterpillars. Climate change also poses a threat to the American burying beetles. It’s challenging for these beetles to survive during harsh winters. It is because there’s not enough food around for them to eat.

The good news is that conservation organizations have been working to restore the beetle’s habitat. They have created sustainable landscapes. They provide food, water, shelter, and space for the American burying beetles.

Other State Symbols in Rhode Island

Rhode Island has many other state symbols representing various aspects of the state and has become part of the Rhode Island identity. State symbols in Rhode Island include animals, birds, food items, and many more. Let’s explore some of these fun state symbols:

Object State Symbol Year Adopted
State Bird Rhode Island Red 1954
State Fish Striped Bass 2000
State Flower Violet 1968
State Marine Mammal Harbor Seal 2016
State Mineral Bowenite 1966
State Song “Rhode Island Is It for Me” 1996
State Tree Red Maple 1964
State Fruit Greening Apple 1991
State Drink Coffee Milk 1993
State License Plate Nickname “Ocean State” 1971
State Rock Cumberlandite 1966

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As you can see, Rhode Island is just one of many states that have adopted a state insect (the American Burying Beetle). But, as you’ve heard, it is an endangered species.

Hopefully, in the future, the American Burying Beetle will repopulate their lost habitat. Rhode Island is an example of a state taking the initiative to preserve and save these beetles from extinction.

All in all, it is lucky that Rhode Island officials didn’t choose a less formidable insect as the state bug.

Featured Image Credit: Chase D’animulls, Shutterstock


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