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Beetle Mania- Dung Beetles in Africa

Published 9 September 2010 under Travelogue • Comments: 36
Beetle Mania- Dung Beetles in Africa

 Beetle Mania - Dung beetles in Africa

Mention Dung Beetles and we all think of a pair of large black beetles struggling to manoeuvre a hefty ball of dung along a difficult trail. Nonetheless there are over 4000 different species of dung beetles each having a specific technique of using dung to feed and breed. If fact it’s been said God had an inordinate fondness for beetles in general.

This ball rolling technique appears to have evolved to minimise competition with other beetles most of which simple burrow and bury smaller balls of dung beneath the actual dung heap. This species of dung beetles have specially adapted front legs that aid in the collecting of the fresh dung and fashioning it into the ball.  In the Scarabaeus sacer species the males prepare the nuptial ball and rolls it away with his back feet while the female rides on top of the ball or follows behind. He then buries it and she follows him into the hole where they mate and then feed off the ball of dung. This can take several days.


Once at the chosen site the female goes down into the chamber alone. She lays a large single egg into the ball and then smoothes the dung over the hole to keep the inside of the ball fresh for the hatched grub to devour. She then emerges to repeat the process. In a life span of 4 years she can produce 50-60 balls, each one containing a single egg. The egg hatches within a week or so and the larva feeds on the dung ball over a few weeks and undergoes the change to become a pupa and later an adult beetle.


The wings of dung beetles are terrifically powerful and operate on a sophisticated system of hydraulics. Have you ever tried to hold a dung beetle in your fist? (The residual smell aside!) These beetles “pump up” their wings into the flight position by combining blood and air pressure that is then later released after flight. The resultant movement of the wings is incredibly rapid, moving up and down between 40 and 90 times per second.

(A humming bird by contrast moves its wings 30 to 50 times a second.)


Here in Africa we owe much to dung beetles. They remove and bury dung thereby controlling the fly population and the spread of disease. Natural fertilizer is better distributed and soil porosity improved.  In1968 Australia imported dung beetles to control their fly problem.

Dung beetles are preyed on by many birds, lizards and toads while the nests are often violated by jackal and honey badger that crack open the huge brood balls and eat the larva.



















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