The indispensable role of dung beetles in nature

Scarabaeus sacer
  • Scarabaeus sacer
  • Onthophagus nuchicornis
The indispensable role of dung beetles in nature

Have you ever wondered how fecal matter gets recycled in nature? What would the consequences in pastures be   if dung beetles failed to play their indispensable role? What’s the economic importance of these particular beetles for humanity?

Dung beetles: scarab beetles

The term “dung beetle” applies to coprophagous beetles belonging primarily to three families, the Scarabaeidae, Geotrupidae and Aphodiidae. These beetles feed on the excrement (feces) of other animals, and of herbivores in particular. Québec has about 50 species from those groups, which are unfamiliar to most people but important for ecological balance.

The ecological function of dung beetles

In nature and in pastures, dung beetles play a vital role in recycling the excrement they eat. They also use it to feed their future larvae. Their work is therefore beneficial, since it allows for the recycling or burying of organic matter and for making a natural fertilizer out of it. In addition, by seeing to it that excrement does not remain too long on the ground, dung beetles prevent the spread of diseases to livestock and ruminants. In the United States alone, studies have shown that the work carried out by dung beetles is estimated to be worth over $400 million for agriculture. All that because dung beetles bury manure!

An example to follow

The essential role played by dung beetles became known around the world when in the early 1960s Australia imported more than 30 million bovines. Unfortunately, the dung beetles that specialized in the excrement of those bovines did not make the trip. The result was the production of 40 million tons of dung, which took over seven years to disappear. The authorities therefore had to ask biologists to introduce dung beetles that would solve the problem rapidly and cleanly!

A famous dung beetle

Of all dung beetles, the most famous is no doubt the Egyptian scarab beetle (Scarabeus sacer). The Egyptians observed the life cycle of the dung beetle and made it an important symbol of the ancient land. It was represented in sculptures on temples and reproduced thousands of times on ancient papyruses. The necklaces of Tutankhamun are renowned for their beauty, and the scarab beetle on them is one of the significant depictions.

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