We all too often focus on nothing more then the big 5 and larger mammals that we so often forget all about the smaller things in life. How many times on a game drive do you come upon a dung beetle working hard to get that ball of dung to a specific destination? And how many of us ask the question, why do they do that?
Male dung beetles are the ones that roll the dung in neat compact balls. They don’t do this for fun or because their name suggests it. These males are actually in he process of making a wedding gift to present to the female. Females are very specific when it comes to picking a dung ball and they will only choose the best, as soon as the female has made her decision she will attach herself to the ball and stay there no matter what. Males on the other hand have got to cope with choosing the right direction, the obstacles he must cross and thieves that might steal the ball of dung and the female along with it. They use sun compass navigation to prevent moving in circles, and as soon as they have picked a destination as to where they will bury the dung ball, the male and female will mate; dig a hole for the dung ball and the female will lay only a single egg in the dung. This is then buried after the baby will hate and crawl out of the dung ball to begin its life above ground.
Most people come to Africa expecting to see only animals, mainly the big five. But there is so much more to experience and enjoy about the bush that people don’t realize until pointed out to them. Tonight on drive I decided to stop in an open area called Masoto Plains for a usual sun down drinks. This particular area is one of the most spectacular areas as there is always an abundance of animals and bird life. To top off this unique and beautiful area for game viewing, it also over looks the Drakensberg mountains in the west and the sun sets just behind them. I had stopped just before the sun reached the tops of the mountains and set up the drinks. The guests were so preoccupied admiring the vast numbers of game on the plains that they almost missed this incredible African sunset. Once I had pointed it out the guests fell quiet for about 20min without so much as a word, all staring out over the savannah with the game in front of them and then sunset in the back round. It was such a treat to realize just how much the guests had enjoyed this. People always say there is nothing quite like an African sunset.
Being a field guide we are privileged to see many amazing and spectacular sightings from wildlife to insects to sunsets over the valleys, but every guide has a story that strikes a cord more then the rest. As for myself, mine came 2 days ago. While out on drive, busy scanning and appreciating the various intriguing things the bush has to offer, we were ever so luckily to stumble upon 4 young lions, 3 females and 1 male. Now as amazing as this sighting is on its own, the story gets better when the 4 youngsters located a small herd of waterbuck standing in a conveniently open area. This location was perfect for us because we could watch and appreciate the sighting from a respectful distance without interfering. Although the lions were not successful in their hunt due to their inexperience as they were still very young, it was amazing to see how they communicated and coordinated their assault and how they used the environment to their advantage. It was also amazing to see how the prey animals are perfectly adapted to surviving these moments. A truly unforgettable experience.
Dung beetles seem to be totally misunderstood by most people. For a lot of guests they are scary things flying into you at night, sounding like a plane or helicopter taking off. These little creatures are in fact very interesting and extremely useful in maintaining a healthy environment. They are coprophages, which means that they feed on faeces. They will locate fresh dung, carry it off and scatter a pile of dung in an amazingly short time. The dung is buried in the ground where it decomposes, aerating and fertilizing the soil. The removal of dung also minimizes the number of flies. They can live for approximately 3 years.
Dung beetles can be split into four major groups depending on their habits:
Endocoprids are dung beetles that burrow and nest in fresh dung piles.
Paracoprids dig tunnels beneath the dung pile and deposit the dung at the end of the tunnel for consumption and egg incubation.
Telecoprids are the most well-known. The male will start rolling a ball, and then pushing it with the back legs away from the dung pile. When the ball is of a suitable size, the male releases a pheromone which attracts a female. She will then join him and hang on to the ball as the male continues rolling the ball in search of soft sand in which it can be buried. The female lays an egg in the brood ball, and the larvae are left to develop using the dung as sustenance during the metamorphic process.
Kleptocoprids will locate other dung beetles’ brood balls and parasitize them, by laying their own eggs in the host’s ball.
Next time you come across a big pile of rhino or elephant dung, you should have a closer look. You’ll be surprised by the amount of dung beetles, and different species and colours found inside those smelly piles.
Maggie – Kapama River Lodge Ranger
As a ranger this time of year there isn’t much to complain about, the summer rain has come and the whole bush and all the vegetation has transformed from pale brown to lush greenery.
The animals are all fragmented across the reserve and buffalo and rhino’s are all hanging out at their favourite mud pools and watering holes.
This evening on safari we were really spoilt with beautiful sightings all over the reserve, our first sighting was a female leopard that managed to catch and kill a baby baboon.
That was followed by us finding two lionesses and two cubs of about three months old. The cubs were still suckling and the lionesses looked well fed and in great condition, always rewarding to see these animals all doing so well!