Dung Beetles: Waste Warriors!

Among the world’s smallest sanitation engineers, the dung beetle takes on the task of managing the world’s copious quantities animal waste with enthusiasm and rivalry!

The old saying “one man’s waste is another man’s treasure” could not be more true for the diminutive dung beetle. While most animals have little use for the waste of others, a good piece of dung is serious business for dung beetles.

Captured at Dakota County’s Spring Lake Regional Park Reserve, this video shows a trio of dung beetles duking it out for a deer dropping. It appears that two of the beetles may be a “mated” pair (they make a temporary pair bond). The third may be a male trying to steal the female or that one particularly luscious piece of dung, hard to say. Whatever the case, he’s clearly not wanted. And no, the video has not been sped up — they really know how to fling each other around!

Dung beetles roll the dung into round balls (in this case, the scat is conveniently spheroid), then lay their eggs in it or use it for food.

Mated pairs will make between three and 20 brood balls and the female lays just one egg in each. In the insect world, that's not many eggs, so the survival rate of the young must be fairly high. (Who else wants to dive into a pile of dung to find an egg?) Some species dig holes and bury the dung, helping to fertilize the soil. The brood ball is then consumed by the young when they come of age. It’s best if it's a bit moist, so the beetles can more easy ingest it in what one researcher has coined a “dung slurpee.”

These marvelous little cleaner-uppers are important for nutrient recycling and are also vital in pastures for controlling fly populations and parasitic nematodes that are harmful to cows.

Learn more

• Take a Beetle to Lunch Today or The Natural History of Dung Beetles, Brett Ratcliffe, University of Nebraska.
• Wikipedia