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Dung Beetle Feeding on Bear Scat

10-16 dung beetle 127Wherever there is scat, or dung, there are dung beetles. This is a photograph of a dung beetle in heaven as it has located a black bear’s gigantic (apple-filled) scat, which will provide it with food for a long, long time. Some species of dung beetles (rollers) shape pieces into balls and roll them away and bury them to eat later or lay their eggs on. Some species (tunnelers) bury their dung by tunneling underneath the pile of scat. And a third group (dwellers) actually lives inside dung piles.

Most dung beetles prefer the scat of herbivores. There are always bits of food that do not get digested, and these bits are what a dung beetle feeds on. Dung beetle larvae eat the solids, while adult beetles drink the liquids contained in the scat. A given species of dung beetle typically prefers the dung of a certain species or group of animals, and does not touch the dung of any other species.

Dung beetles have a brain that is the size of a grain of rice, yet they are very sophisticated insects. They use celestial clues (the Milky Way) in order to roll balls of dung in a straight line. Dung beetles are known for “dancing,” which helps them orient themselves after their path has been disrupted. They use their dung balls to regulate their temperature, and cool off. (In very warm climates, around noon, when the sun is at its peak, dung beetles will routinely climb atop their dung balls to give their feet a break from the hot ground. Thermal imaging has shown that dung balls are measurably cooler than the surrounding environment, probably because of their moisture content.) And dung beetles keep track of the number of steps they take and the direction from which they came (instead of landmarks) in order to return to their nest with a ball of dung.

Even though they are remarkably clever, dung beetles can be duped! A flowering plant native to South Africa (Ceratocaryum argenteum) produces large, round nuts that are strikingly similar in appearance, smell, and chemical composition to antelope droppings, which the dung beetles accordingly roll away and bury, effectively sowing a new generation of C. argenteum.

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14 responses

  1. Cheron barton

    Good one too!! ** We will take the left over sh__on your drive way!! Do you think Aram will go for more this weekend? If so… Let me know…& Bruce will put a tarp in front of our shed (SW corner of lot) Ok?? Thx Cheron

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    October 22, 2015 at 7:46 am

  2. Susannah

    I loved this aspect of the research done on this topic of celestial navigation: “Researchers fitted some dung beetles with cardboard caps to keep their eyes on the ground, finding they had more difficulty navigating a circular arena when their view of the sky was blocked.” Yes, there’s a photo! Here’s the link – http://www.livescience.com/26557-dung-beetles-navigate-stars.html

    October 22, 2015 at 7:55 am

  3. Jane Swift

    This may be one of the most fascinating nature observations I’ve read! Thank you for bringing the world of dung beetles to my attention!

    October 22, 2015 at 8:21 am

  4. Fascinating post, Mary. Thanks!

    October 22, 2015 at 8:25 am

  5. Yuck!

    October 22, 2015 at 8:40 am

  6. Perry

    How big is the dung beetle in the picture? A brain the size of a grain of rice would be pretty huge for an animal that’s about the same size as a quarter.

    October 22, 2015 at 9:15 am

    • I agree! And this particular dung beetle isn’t even as big as a quarter! Info must apply to another species of dung beetle!

      October 22, 2015 at 10:13 am

      • Perry

        I think I’ve tracked down the “size of a grain of rice” mention. Marcus Byrne uses this description in his TED talk, “The Dance of the Dung Beetle”: https://www.ted.com/talks/marcus_byrne_the_dance_of_the_dung_beetle?language=en

        The dung beetles he’s talking about are from South Africa, and they look huge. Wikipedia mentions that dung beetles can be as large as 3 cm long and 2 cm wide – a lot bigger than a quarter! At that size, a brain the size of a grain of rice seems reasonable.

        The TED talk features videos of the experiments done to study how these beetles navigate and is well worth watching.

        October 22, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      • Thanks so much!

        October 22, 2015 at 5:49 pm

  7. Fascinating facts today, Mary. What a great service these niche feeders provide for the planet!

    October 22, 2015 at 9:35 am

  8. Kathie Fiveash

    Thank you Mary, and thank you to the countless anonymous dung beetles out there who are doing such important work!

    October 22, 2015 at 11:58 am

  9. Marcel Duhaime

    While on safari in South Africa this past summer, I learned that there are four types of dung beattles:

    1. Telecoprid – roll dung
    2. Kleptocoprid – steal dung
    3. Paracoprid – live close to/below dung
    4. Endocoprid – live inside dung

    The beattles in Africa are much larger than the one listed in your posting!!!

    October 22, 2015 at 12:42 pm

  10. John Snell

    What a great posting!! We had fun when in Botwana finding dung beetles (two varieties) in elephant poop. I even had a thermal imager with me but, darn it, you’d not yet written this to prompt me to image the dung balls. I’m sure studies of the role of elephant dung in the ecology have been done but I’ve not read them—its everywhere and it is important stuff!

    Hope all is well with you. Hugs, John

    October 23, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    • You have no idea how wonderful it is to know there are other people as fascinated as I am by things that most people find unappealing, to say the least! I’m betting the beetles you saw were a lot bigger than the ones we have here. Thanks for writing, John. Mary

      October 23, 2015 at 3:43 pm

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