They are specialists, it is true. They only get rid of dung—all sorts of it including cat, cow sheep, horse and elephant dung, but they are so good at it! And they turn smelly unwanted refuse into homes and food for themselves and their offspring. And, they turn manure into soil nutrients that have no odor and that does not attract flies. They were imported to Australia specifically to alleviate an overwhelming problem with cow dung.
They have been around forever. Fossilized balls of dung created by beetles have been found from 40 million years ago. Small and nocturnal, they are among the insect world’s busiest workers and the only insects that care for their offspring by creating nests of dung to nurture and feed them. Some dung beetles mate for life and work together to raise their young grubs.
Dung beetles are incredibly strong. They can move a dung ball they have created that is 50 times their own weight. A six-pound pile of elephant dung attracted 16,000 beetles within 15 minutes after it was dropped and within a two-hour period, the pile had disappeared.
There are about 8,000 species and three different kinds of dung beetles. Rollers make a burrow away from the source of the dung and then roll balls of dung to their burrows. Tunnellers burrow under piles of dung and make their homes there. Dwellers simply live in piles of dung. One species rides around on the backs of snails and feeds on snail dung.
Human beings, especially young ones, have a strange fascination with fecal matter. The subject is slightly risqué, subject to all kinds of “dirty” jokes and a never-ending source of harmless amusement for certain of us regardless of age. Maybe that is part of the reason dung beetles are endearing.
They make us laugh. They don’t take up much space in the world. As long as there’s some popp around, they will never suffer from starvation. They don’t make noise. They don’t bite or sting. They don’t carry diseases. They don’t eat anything that’s alive. They are not interested in moving into human habitations. In fact, they ask nothing of us humans. All they want to do is use and consume what we consider the unusable and the unconsumable.
What’s not to like about dung beetles?