Facts about dung beetles

Everything you need to know about dung beetles

  • Dung beetles are a relatively modern group of beetles, their fossils only extend back to 40 million years ago.
  • There are about 7 000 species world wide.
  • Dung beetles range from less than 1mm to a giant 6cm.
  • Dung beetles occur on every continent except Antarctica.
  • The life expectancy for most dung beetles range from three to five years.
  • A researcher observed that a small 1.5 Kg pile of Elephant dung on the African savannah attracted 16 000 dung beetles of various shapes and sizes, who between them had eaten and or buried that dung completely in just two hours. One dung beetle can bury 250 times its own weight in a night.
  • Most of the dung beetles in the world use herbivore dung, though many are not very particular and will use many different forms of dung,
  • Some species have definite preferences for one type of dung only.
  • Onthophagus caenobita has only ever been found feeding in human faeces.
  • A dung beetle in South America called Zonocopris gibbicolis feeds on the faeces of large snails on whom it rides around.
  • The female dung beetle lays a single egg into each ball of dung and then covers the nest with more dung and soil. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will feed on the fecal matter.
  • Dung beetles can be divided into 3 groups, Rollers, Tunnellers and Dwellers. Rollers are species who make a burrow some way away from the dung they are going to use and then collect small to medium sized lumps of dung to roll into their burrows. Typhaeus typhoeus, the Minotaur Beetle, can dig burrows up to one metre deep. Generally the female does most of the digging and the male spends most of his time collecting the dung for her. Rollers dig their front legs into the ground and use their back legs to push the ball of dung. Tunnellers fly until they find some fecal matter into which they dive. They dig a tunnel and then drag as much dung as they like down into it. Again it is mostly the female who stays in the burrow sorting out the dung and the male who goes out to get it.
  • Some dung beetles eat and lay their eggs on dung some other beetle has collected. The thief often eats the legitimate dung-owners eggs as well as stealing their dung.
  • The females of many of the larger ‘Rollers’ stay inside their burrows and care for and protect their eggs and young, these species can live for up to 3 years. Some of these larger dung beetles can move balls of dung up to 50 times their own weight.
  • Australia imported 45 species of dung beetle from various parts of the world to get rid of cattle dung.
  • In ancient Egypt the scarab or dung beetle was the most important religious symbol. In some Indian tribes from South America a dung beetle named Aksak is supposed to have modelled the first man and woman from clay.
  • Without dung beetles, the earth would be piled high with manure.

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