NANTUCKET — Lou Perrotti stands up for the members of the animal kingdom that humans tend to forget.
As the director of conservation programs at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, he’s a champion of the not-so-cute and fluffy.
And one of his favorite critters is the American burying beetle, a critically endangered species once found across the country, spread through 35 states. Now, the only place on the East Coast with a natural population is Block Island in Rhode Island.
And if his more than two decades of dedication to the wine-cork-sized black and orange beetle isn’t enough of a display of his affection, his love is made obvious through a tattoo of the beetle on his right arm.
Earlier this month, Perrotti and a small band of scientists worked to boost a reintroduced population on Nantucket as an insurance policy for the Block Island beetles.
Burying beetles are decomposers. They take dead animals, normally birds and small mammals, and bury them in the ground. They are recyclers that keep the ecosystem’s balance, Perrotti said. The beetles build a tunnel adjacent to the carcass and lay their eggs in it. Once the larvae hatch, the family feasts on the animal, which has been preserved by secretions from the beetles.
Last week, with the help of the Maria Mitchell Association and other Nantucket conservation organizations, Perrotti introduced more than 100 zoo-raised beetles into the Middle Moors area of the island. This is the first time since 2006 that captive beetles have been released on the island, the first of an annual five-year reintroduction period.