Scientific name: Family Scarabaeidae
Conservation status: Stable
There are over 7000 species of dung beetles in the world. Dung beetles can come in a variety of colours from dull and glossy black to metallic green and red. They have wings which are folded under hard covers that enable them to fly over long distances. They have three pairs of legs which are very strong and are used for rolling dung and burrowing. They have spurs on their back legs that help with the rolling of the dung balls. Some of the species have horns on their heads or thorax, the males of the species use these for fighting. They have specialised antennae that they will use to catch the scent of dung in the air so that they can go get their next meal.
The size of the dung beetle depends on the species with the smallest being about 1.3 cms (0.5 in) and the largest about 6.3 cms (2.5 in).
They are one of the strongest insects in the world with them being able to roll up to 50 times their body weight. The male Onthophagus taurus beetles can pull about 1100 times their weight, which would be the equivalent of a person pulling six double-decker buses full of people.
The lifespan of the dung beetle is on average 3-5 years depending on the species.
Dung beetles feed partly or exclusively on dung (faeces) of mainly herbivores, which don’t digest their food very well. Some species of dung beetles however do feed on the dung of carnivores and some other species eat mushrooms, decaying leaves and fruit and the remains of dead animals.
The dung of herbivores contains half digested grass and a liquid, and it is the liquid that the adult beetles feed on. Some of the species have special mouth parts that they can suck the liquid up with. The liquid is rich in microorganisms that the beetles are able to digest. The beetles do not need to drink or eat anything else as they get all the nutrients that they require from the dung.
The dung beetle is found on all continents except Antartica. The habitats that they live in are farmland, forests, grasslands, prairies and deserts.
In Australia the native forest dwelling dung beetles couldn’t keep up with the huge amounts of manure being made by the cattle in the fields, which was causing huge increases in the fly population. African dung beetles which do well in open fields were introduced into Australia to help with the growing piles of manure and now the fly population is under control.
Dung beetles can be classed into three different types and they all lay their eggs differently, these three types are rollers, tunnelers and dwellers.
A male roller will court the female by offering her a giant sized brood ball and if she accepts the ball they will roll it away together. They will then find a soft place to bury the ball and will then mate. Once mating has happened the male leaves to find other partners, while the female will stay and make another one or two breed balls before laying a single egg in each of them. She will then coat the ball with dung, saliva and her own faeces and then put it back underground. Some females will stay with the brood ball for about two months cleaning the larvae (grubs) that hatch.
Tunnelers will choose a cow pile and make a tunnel straight down in which they will make a home. Keeping the dung underground helps it to be protected from predators while the grubs develop. The female will arrange the dung throughout the tunnel, while the male will keep bringing in more dung. Either the male or the female or both will stay with the larvae (grubs) until they mature which is around four months.
Dwellers don’t put their eggs underground instead they lay them on top of a manure pile and the whole process of the development of the larvae to an adult happens inside the dung pat. The adults are found in fresh, moist pats but the larvae will be growing in dung that is drying out.
Dung beetles are very important in the world of agriculture as they are the ultimate recyclers. By taking the dung and burying it underground or eating it they improve the nutrient recycling and the soil. They also help to protect livestock because if they weren’t cleaning up the dung it would attract large numbers of pests and flies. On average cows make about 10 cow pats each day and if they were left each one could attract about 3000 flies in two weeks. Dung beetles can help to bury about 80% of the dung which lets plants grow and reduces the smells and flies.
Once the dung beetle has made its dung ball they have to roll it away from the pat quickly as other dung beetles will try and steal the ball away from the other beetle. They will roll the ball in a straight line even if there are obstacles in the way.
Without dung beetles the world would be piled high with manure piles.
Ancient Egyptians used the images of dung beetles in their jewellry and religious artworks.
Dung beetles are able to carry things which are 50 times their own weight.