Underdogs of the Animal World: Dung Beetle
Dung beetles are hardly the Disney princesses of the insect world. They don’t sing sweet songs, they don’t woo anyone, least of all princes with smouldering gazes and suspiciously well-kept hair for someone doing so much fightiness, and the only thing they inspire birds to do is gobble them up. But just because they’re not pretty, or even very hygienic, doesn’t mean they’re not important. Without dung beetles, we would be buried in animal poop at this very moment, which would make reading this article a bit difficult and eating those nachos inadvisable.
Fact number one is probably obvious, but it needs to be said. Dung beetles are into dung. That’s their thing and it makes them happy, so whatevs. Who are we to judge? There are three types of dung beetle: rollers, tunnellers and dwellers. Rollers roll the bit of poop they like best into a nice ball, away from the original poop, and they bury it, choosing either to chow down, (because yum, right?) or lay eggs inside (more on that later). The tunnellers bury their poop by, yep, you guessed it, tunnelling underneath the original poop. And the dwellers live in the poop, which is apparently nicer on the inside than the outside. Seriously, it’s like MTV Cribs. Not that I’ve been invited inside a particularly fancy poop collection or anything…
So how do our beetle friends go about finding their dung? Well, some dung beetles use their sense of smell to sniff out some poop that particularly takes their fancy, while others hitch a ride on an animal whose poop has been found to be just right. But once they have their poop ball, in order to figure out where they are, the dung beetles will clamber on top of the poop, do a little jig, which is pretty much them freaking out about being pretty darn lost, since they left their GPS in their other poop ball. Scientists have figured out that the Scarabaeus satyrus, an African dung beetle, uses the Milky Way to navigate. Do you know how they found this out? Accessorizing of course! They put teeny hats on the beetles’ heads so they couldn’t look up, and suddenly the dung beetles were lost.
Not content in just adding headgear, the scientist folk were also wondering how the dung beetles managed to stand the heat burning their tootsies, so they gave them some adorbs silicone booties to wear. This not only made the dung beetles look so fetch, but they allowed them to push their poop balls further and longer than the poor shoe-less orphans. The scientists then examined the dung balls and found that they were way cooler than everything else (probably due to the air conditioning and swimming pool). So next time you’re in the midst of shopping-related guilt, remember that clothes are science. Also reasons.
The best dung balls can be up to fifty times as heavy as the beetle, so they have to be pretty strong. But it’s not just heaving balls of poop around that gets their muscles pumping. Dung beetles are also a bit fighty. Most animals will have a bit of a tussle when it comes to important things like wooing a lady, but dung beetles have other priorities. Yep, the most important thing in the world is the dung ball, and if another beetle’s eye wanders towards it, he’s in trouble. 4,000 dung beetles were observed by scientists piling on top of an elephant’s poop within 15 minutes of it hitting the ground, and a short while later, there were another 12,000 dung beetles wanting a slice of poop pie. It kinda brings a whole new perspective to the term ‘food fight’!
Since they’re eating poop, rolling poop and living in poop, you’d think that dung beetles weren’t that picky when it comes to whose dung they chose to roll around in. But nope, dung beetles have their preferences, just like us, and what they like, they REALLY like. In parts of Texas, dung beetles get rid of around 80 percent of the cattle dung. Can you imagine if they didn’t? Ick. But scientists didn’t always know that dung beetles were fussy. Two hundred years ago, Australian settlers brought horses, sheep, and cattle to the outback. When they pooped, the dung beetles were all like, ‘Uh, no.’ They were proud, Aussie beetles, and they wanted Kangaroo poop. The foreign animals left a pretty big mess that no beetles were interested in clearing. Luckily, around 1960, Australia imported some foreign dung beetles who loved cattle dung, and they all lived happily ever after. So we should remember to be super grateful to the dung beetle, for providing us with poop-free shoes and the ability to breathe in without dying.