- Education and Science
Part Of Nature's Clean-Up Crew - The Dung Beetle
Nature, left to its own resources, has a wonderful system for keeping the environment spotless. Carnivores control the number of herbivores, making sure there is sufficient food for those remaining, and scavengers, like vultures, eat carrion, eliminating the number of rotting animal carcasses. Often unseen, are small armies of insects of all sizes taking care of the leftovers. One member of the junior cleanup crew is the dung beetle.
There are thousands of species of dung beetle. They are considered to be an insect beneficial to man. By eating dung, they help control the fly population, which spreads diseases dangerous to man. As they bury and process their dung balls, they help add nutrients to the soil.
If you have pets, and live in an area where dung beetles are prevalent, you will see that they actually do one of your jobs for you. Some years ago, I visited a friend in south Texas. Every day, they took their dogs to a remote part of their lot. Here the dogs did their business. The next day, all evidence of the act had disappeared. It fascinated me to visit the spot in the early afternoon and see these amazing little creatures hard at work.
Dung beetles are compact tank-like insects with flat heads, and wings folded, and lying flat against the back, under wing covers.. The males of some species have a horn-like extension on their heads. Dung beetles come in a wide variety of colors, from plain grays and blacks to beautiful metallic greens and blues. Dung beetles come in all sizes, from barely visible, to over two inches long. They live in all parts of the world, including deserts, grasslands, and forests. Dung beetles feed primarily on the dung of herbivores and carnivores, hence they are more common around herds of cattle, or on the trails followed by big game animals. Although they are considered dung eaters, they may, on occasion, may eat small quantities of rotting vegetation. As long as there is a food source readily available, dung beetles can survive.
Some dung beetles find their food by scent, flying close to the earth until they find a pile. Other, usually smaller, species live on or close to their hosts, and feed when opportunities arise.
Dung beetles are among the strongest of insects, easily able to push a dung ball that is more than ten times their own body weight. Once a dug beetle finds a pile of dung, it quickly digs out a sizable chunk, by using its saw-like front legs. Quickly, he/she rolls the dung into a ball, and heads straight for home, and that means straight for home, over obstacles large and small. Dung beetles are not all hard workers. Some merely lie in wait to steal the ball of a passerby. Fights are not uncommon.
When dung beetles are mature, they work in pairs, finding and rolling dung balls. They may deposit these balls in shaft like tunnels, and when ready, the female will lay their eggs right at the food source. Other dung beetles roll a good sized ball, in which the female deposits her eggs. When they hatch, the grub-like larvae, feed on the dung around them.
When the larvae are mature, they enter the pupa stage, still within the confines of the dung ball. When they mature, they use their strong front legs to dig their way to the surface, and start another cycle of life.
The Egyptian dung beetle, known as a scarab, was worshiped as a god, one that rolled the sun across the sky, during the day, and buried it, only to dig it out and raise it the following dawn. It is no wonder that the Egyptians depicted this wonderful insect in various art forms, including the beautiful golden ring seen above, on the right.