Vol. 12 Issue 3, Fall 2007
By Molly Darr
Most people maintain the classic image of these fascinating creatures dutifully rolling spherical balls of dung here and there. However, their responsibilities are not limited to this notable activity. The dung itself is used as food for both adults and larvae. The rolling itself takes place when the adult is hauling off the dung to bury, which is also used for brooding.
Dung beetles can be found throughout the world and across the U.S., with the predominance of species found in the southeast. Though there are a few native species of dung beetle in Virginia, a non-native dung beetle species has been introduced into the state as a means to help reduce the breeding habitat of dung-breeding flies, including the horn fly and face fly, which are perilous pests to cattle and cost farmers millions of dollars in insecticides and veterinarian fees. By introducing species with greater potential to bury cattle dung, the fly population can be reduced.
Due to the diversity of dung beetles, some species feed on the dung of only one species of animal, while others do not discriminate. Habitats can include anything from grasslands to forests and from sand to clay-based soils. Overall, dung beetles are between ½ and 1 inch long and many are an incongruous lovely metallic blue-green and copper. The front of the head is flattened and shield-like (clypeus) and is golden bronze. The male of some species has one or two horns on the head or thorax, while the slightly larger female has a smaller tubercle. The legs are modified for digging and rolling.
These insects play a crucial role in nature by greatly reducing fecal matter. This yields a significant decline in the spreading of infectious diseases through flies, by reducing the prevalence of their breeding grounds. Additionally, by burying and consuming the dung, they improve nutrient cycling in soils. A truly indispensable creature, the dung beetle silently toils out of sight to improve our quality of life on a daily basis. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
http://texasinsects.tamu.edu/bimg146.html, article by Drees, B.M. and John Jackman.
https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/forage/guidetoncdungbeetles.pdf article by M. Bertone et al.