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