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Beetles on the Hunt for. . .Dung?

Dung. It’s not the most interesting or pleasant subject. But for some beetles, it’s their life and livelihood. These beetles are very interested in the excrement of other animals, and you can find them all over the world. If you really just have to get away from dung beetles, you’ll have to go all the way to Antarctica to do it! You really don’t have to worry about these creatures, though, because they aren’t a problem for humans. They’re too interested in their own little lives to worry about biting or stinging people, making them one of the easier insects to deal with and be around. As long as you don’t mind a little dung.

What Do Dung Beetles Look Like?

According to National Geographic, the dung beetle is usually one inch or less in length, although some of them can be just a little bit bigger than that. The smallest ones are only about 2/10ths of an inch, so they are really small. They look a lot like other types of beetles, and some people have trouble telling the difference. That’s generally why it’s never a good idea to pick up an unknown or unidentified insect. You can’t be completely sure what you’re getting, if you haven’t gained the knowledge you need to avoid reaching for something that might bite you. While a dung beetle won’t hurt you, some similar looking creatures could.

Dung Beetle Up Close

Dung beetles are generally black or brown. They look very much like the dung they spend so much time with, when it comes to color. You aren’t going to find many brightly colored ones, or ones that have distinctive markings, although some are brighter than you would expect. In general, they look like a plain, brown or black beetle, and they have the characteristic oval type of shape that you can expect from all sorts of beetles. These beetles have six legs, and they also have antennae. They are slow moving for the most part, but they are also very industrious when it comes to making sure they take care of themselves and their young.

What Do They Do With the Dung?

While it may seem gross to us, dung beetles actually eat the dung they find, says About Education. They also treat it differently, depending on whether they are a tunneler, roller, or dweller. These are the three basic dung beetle groups, and each group is a little bit different. Rollers shape dung into balls, and then they roll those dung balls away from the pile of dung they got the ball from. The ball is usually buried for later, and they may use it for laying their eggs. Tunnelers dig underneath the dung pile, and bury some of the dung there, while dwellers move right in and set up residence in the dung pile.

Rolling Dung

No matter how they handle the collection of the dung they find, there’s no getting around the fact that they’re still eating it. Adult dung beetles stick to liquids, or the juice and moisture that can be found in the dung, while the young larvae eats the solid dung instead. Both are good options that are full of nutrients. When animals eat something, and that food moves through the digestive process and out the opposite end of the digestive tract, there are still bits and pieces of food that has not been completely digested. The dung beetles can use the nutrients in that food in order to sustain themselves and feed their young.

Is One Type of Dung Better Than Another Type?

For the dung beetle, the dung of herbivores (animals that eat only plants) is preferred. However, some types of dung beetles will also eat the dung of omnivores, which are animals that eat plants but also eat meat. Carnivore dung isn’t a good choice for dung beetles, because they don’t get the nutrient-rich plant matter that way. They miss out on some of the crucial things they need in their diet, which can keep them from staying healthy. It also doesn’t provide what their young needs, so they generally avoid that type of dung if possible.

Dung Pile

With the dung of herbivores, some of the undigested plant matter that passes through the animal’s system is still rich in valuable things that the beetle and its young need to survive. With that in mind, these beetles are selective. You probably wouldn’t think of an insect that eats dung as being choosy, but these beetles really are. They won’t eat just any dung, and they need to make sure they are selecting something that is going to give them everything they need in order to protect themselves nutritionally. Because they take the care of their young seriously, too, they will reject dung that will not help their larvae grow and prosper.

Where Do They Live?

Dung beetles mostly live in grasslands and forests, where there is plenty of dung. There, they can get dung that offers a good moisture content, and they can also select herbivore dung from several different animals. That gives them an option for the kind of dung they really need, so they get proper nutrition. Additionally, grasslands and forests have relatively soft earth, so they can bury dung balls, and tunnel under dung piles, depending on the type of dung beetle they are. The opportunity to do those things helps them protect the dung they find from other beetles like them, so they don’t lose out on a meal.

Beetles on Dung

You generally won’t find dung beetles indoors. If you find one in your home, it very likely got there completely by accident. They aren’t harmful to people, and you can put the beetle back outside where it can find its way to the dung it was looking for. If you live in or near a forest, or if you live where there are a lot of open grasslands and prairies, you’re more likely to see a dung beetle or to occasionally find one that has gotten into your home. People in deserts and other types of areas where dung beetles aren’t as common may never seen one of these particular insects in person, even though they can live in those conditions.

How Strong is a Dung Beetle?

One of the things people may not know about dung beetles is that they’re very strong. The balls of dung they push can sometimes be as much as 50 times their weight, but the dung beetle is very determined. The strength and determination male dung beetles have isn’t just for rolling dung balls or tunneling, either. It’s also for fending off the competition. Most dung beetles are good parents, and the male and female beetle work together to have a safe place to lay eggs and to make sure they take care of their young. If there is competition for the female, the strongest male will generally win out, so strength is important for survival.

Beetle Rolling Dung Ball

The record for dung beetle strength goes to one beetle that scientists found could pull 1,141 times the weight of its tiny body. That would be equivalent to a person who weighed 150 pounds pulling something weighing 80 tons. When compared based on size and weight, there aren’t any humans who come close to being as strong as a dung beetle. Even a small ball of fresh dung can weigh a lot, when compared to the size and weight of the beetle that is pushing or pulling that ball. These beetles are pretty amazing, even if what they handle every day isn’t something you would want to touch.

How Can You Get Rid of Dung Beetles?

Getting rid of dung beetles isn’t really much of a concern, although there are insecticides and pesticides that will kill them. Since they don’t harm people or crops, there are few reasons to try to get rid of them, and they aren’t something most people think about. Instead, they just spend their time quietly collecting their dung to eat, and to feed their larvae and lay their eggs. They use dung for almost everything, from food to shelter. There are records of them being around over 30 million years ago, and there are fossilized balls of dung that are the size of tennis balls. That leads you to wonder how big the beetles were.

On Top of Dung Ball

The worst thing a dung beetle might do is steal a dung ball from another beetle, and these insects sometimes fight over the dung they find just like they will fight over the attention of a female. If there are eggs and larvae inside the stolen dung ball, those will be eaten by the thief beetle. These beetles have a long lifespan for such a small creature, as well, and according to The Dung Beetle Expert, they can live from three to five years. Most beetles and other insects have shorter lifespans, and this is often because they are prey for other creatures. Because of their location and the way in which they make their dwellings in and around dung, the dung beetle has fewer natural predators. That helps it live longer, and instead of trying to get rid of it some ranchers and others actually import them to get rid of the dung their animals produce.