I have always been fascinated by nature and its many creatures. From the largest to the smallest. One of these creatures caught my attention when I was just a child and had acquired my first camera. I became enthralled by the iridescent colors, their horns, their activities and so on. Their common name leaves a lot to be desired but its colors make up the difference.
"Dung beetles are beetles that feed partly or exclusively on feces. All of these species belong to the superfamily Scarabaeoidea; most of them to the subfamilies Scarabaeinae and Aphodiinae of the family Scarabaeoidea. This beetle can also be referred to as the scarab beetle. As most species of Scarabaeinae feed exclusively on feces, that subfamily is often dubbed true dung beetles. There are dung-feeding beetles which belong to other families, such as the Geotrupidae (the earth-boring dung beetle). The Scarabaeinae alone comprises more than 5,000 species.
Many dung beetles, known as rollers, are noted for rolling dung into round balls, which are used as a food source or brooding chambers. Other dung beetles, known as tunnelers, bury the dung wherever they find it. A third group, the dwellers, neither roll nor burrow: they simply live in manure. They are often attracted by the dung burrowing owls collect." Wikipedia
What first drew my attention to these beetles was their coloration, but after seeing how they found their food sources and how efficiently they rolled it to a patch of soft dirt and proceeded to burying it, this peaked my interest in photographing them. I also noticed that on occasions some dung beetles would try to steal the dung ball from another beetle, so the dung beetles have to move quickly away from a dung pile once they have rolled their ball to prevent it from being stolen
At first I only photographed them where I found them. As I gained experience and better equipment I began to conduct macro photography But this was only the part of their lives which one could see in the open. I had very little knowledge of what these pretty little creatures did once they disappeared underground With time and some research I learned that my favorite subjects, the dung beetles, buried their food sources where they could comfortably and in peace consume it at their leisure.
I decided that I not only wanted to photograph them while foraging but I also wanted to photograph them underground I went on to make a simple holding tank which resembled a thin fish tank. I used three pieces of wood to which I glued two glass panels.
The tank is rather simple, think of a thin fish tank with a top. I then added dirt that was picked from the beetle's environment. The concept behind constructing a thin tank comes from the same principle used in the making of the "ant farm" toys. Because it uses a thin holding container, the ants dig down into the earth but you can still see what goes on underground. You can still use a regular fish tank but you would then have to add a separate piece of glass placed close to one of the sides of the tank to force the insects to dig close to one of the sides.
Off course the worst part of this "experiment" was to gather their "food'. I secured some small pieces of dog poo, which had dried over a few days and lay them on top of the dirt. Soon afterwards I was able to gather two subjects and introduced them to the holding tank.
Within minutes they were hard at work transporting their prize and burying it. Because of the construction of the tank, it allowed me to witness their activities through the glass. It soon became evident in how laborious these tiny creatures are and how much they can actually consume.
I placed the holding tank complete with its temporary guests in a dark area at room temperature. I then set up my photo gear facing the front glass element of the holding tank where I could observe the beetles digging and feeding. I had one light source placed at a 45 degree angle to the tank and fitted with a diffusing screen and another one set above the tank. I placed the camera lens so that it was literary touching the glass. This is done to minimize the chances of recording reflections from the glass surface.
Once I focused on the subject all I had to do was to release the shutter. Since doing macro increases the chances of recording movement, I had the gear on a tripod and used an electronic shutter release.
The beauty of this photographic project is that it can also be a nature study as well which if you have school age children they can use it in several school science fairs projects. The holding tank itself is also reusable and be accommodated to sustain other insect forms and when emptied and cleaned, it can be used for other photographic projects.
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Next time you're served a meal you're not crazy about, just be thankful you're not a dung beetle. If you were, you'd be eating dung, or animal waste, instead of that plate of whatever you thought was the ickiest food on Earth.
© 2012 Luis E Gonzalez
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