Dung beetles are some of the most famous bugs in the wild. They are mostly known for their peculiar diet, animals, and dung (where they got their name). By reading through this list of fascinating dung beetle facts, you'll discover the reason behind their disgusting diet. You'll also learn about their impressive strength, making them the world's strongest insect. Let's get started!
If you're new to the insect world, you'll find more fun facts in our beetle facts.
Did you know that dung beetles are a part of the Scarabaeidae family, a diverse group of beetles also known as scarab beetles? This family is among the most abundant and species-rich in the beetle order Coleoptera.
Scarabaeidae can be found worldwide and in various terrestrial habitats such as forests, grasslands, deserts, and agricultural fields.
Dung beetles belong to the subfamily Scarabaeinae within Scarabaeidae, and there are currently 5,000 known species of Scarabaeinae dung beetles. North American species can be about one-eighth-inch to one-and-one-half inches long.
Read more: Beetle Species.
Next on our list of intriguing dung beetle facts: Dung beetles' names come from their peculiar diet of eating dung or feces. Adult beetles feed on herbivore feces (mostly from grazing animals), a surprisingly rich source of unused plant material and nutrients.
Dung beetles search out and roll their preferred food using their powerful front and hind legs. The dung beetle uses its head and shovel-like pronotum to scoop and pack the dung together before rolling it.
These little critters diligently break the dung into more manageable portions using their specialized mouthparts. Their diet of nutrient-rich dung plays a pivotal role in ecological health2. By feasting on animal poop, they break it down and return vital nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to the soil.
This nutrient recycling improves soil fertility and water retention, benefiting plant growth. Additionally, dung beetles help reduce methane emissions, a significant greenhouse gas. The animal dung they handle also contains undigested seeds, which aids seed dispersal.
There are three types of dung beetles1: rollers, tunnelers, and dwellers. Rollers, or telecoils, are known for their unique behavior of rolling fresh dung into balls, which they bury underground as a food source for their larvae. This provides nutrition for their offspring, reduces competition, and prevents disease spread. Many dung beetles belong to this group. Examples include Canthon species.
Dwellers, or endoscopies, live within dung piles, creating galleries where they lay their eggs. The larvae hatch and feed on the surrounding dung balls. Dwellers are more common in habitats with abundant dung accumulation, and beetles from the genus Aphodius are prominent examples.
Tunnelers, or paracords (like the Earth Boring Dung Beetles), dig vertical tunnels beneath dung piles and drag or push the dung down into the tunnel, where they lay eggs. The tunneled dung serves as both food and shelter for their developing offspring. Tunnelers, such as the genus Geotrupes, and rollers are efficient dung processors and play a vital role in ecosystem balance and nutrient cycling.
The Scarabaeus satyrus from South Africa is a tiny powerhouse, holding the record for the world's strongest insect. The adult dung beetles of this species can carry an astonishing 1,141 times their body weight, like us carrying six enormous double-decker buses.
They are not only strong, but they are also fast. They carry their food with impressive speed as other dung beetles try to steal it.
Related: Check out our list of some of the world's strongest animals for more might.
Did you know that dung beetles are remarkable creatures? They possess both strength and intelligence. For example, the African Dung Beetle (Scarabaeus satyrus) utilizes the Milky Way as a navigational aid to guide its dung ball home3.
By keeping track of the position of celestial bodies, dung beetles can determine their direction and maintain straight paths. This skill is vital during the day when the sun is visible or during moonlit nights.
We can find dung beetles on all continents except Antarctica. They inhabit diverse landscapes, from deserts to tropical forests. Their choice of residence is based on dung availability. In deserts, they cleverly use dung as a moisture source to cope with limited resources.
In rainforests, dung beetles play a crucial role in spreading seeds. The dung they bury often contains seeds that later sprout, contributing to the forest's greenery. These adaptable beetles have also adjusted to city life, thriving in urban parks and gardens where they find dung from city-dwelling animals.
Dung beetles are not restricted by latitude; they've been spotted at high altitudes up to 4,500 meters in the Andes and the Himalayas.
Another dung beetle fact is that their dung balls are not only for personal use. Male dung beetles create dung balls as gifts and potential homes for their future offspring. By emitting pheromones, they attract female dung beetles who choose them as their mate if they find the dung ball appealing and suitable.
After a successful courtship, the couple crosses challenging landscapes until they find the right dung pats. The female lays eggs (up to thousands) within the dung ball, which the male promptly buries to protect and provide food for the upcoming larvae.
The parent beetles construct a protective ball of dung as a unique nursery for their little critters. It's a strategic move to ensure an abundant food source for the eggs and the hatching larvae.
The larvae start their life in the heart of this dung-filled world, feasting on the nutrient-rich dung broken down by the adult beetles. They grow by molting several times, all safely within the confines of their dung ball, which acts as both a home and a cocoon.
When the time comes for the pupal stage, the hollowed dung ball has fulfilled its purpose. The larvae move on to the next phase of their journey toward adulthood (after a few weeks or months), leaving their dung cradle behind.
Did you know that ancient dung beetles were often associated with the divine in early civilizations?
The scarab, or dung beetle, was highly significant in Ancient Egyptian culture. It represented Khepri, the divine symbol of the morning sun and new beginnings.
The scarab's importance extended to art, adornment, and state documents. Scarab amulets with Book of the Dead spells were placed over the deceased's heart to protect their journey to the afterlife. Scarabs also served as seals on essential documents.
Dung beetles aren't, for the most part, on the endangered list. Yet, they're facing a relentless storm of threats, increasingly pushing them towards murky survival odds. Habitat destruction poses a significant challenge.
The lush homes of dung beetles, abundant with livestock feces, are replaced by concrete cities and monoculture farms. Deforestation in these parts doesn't just rob the dung beetles of their homes – it could wipe out local species entirely, disrupting the ecological balance.
Shifts in the cattle industry have also negatively impacted these insects. A move away from open grazing fields to packed livestock farms has decreased their food. Moreover, veterinary drugs used to protect livestock can become lethal to dung beetles when they consume drug-contaminated dung. Additionally, insecticides unintentionally contaminate their food source, adding to the threats they face.
We must protect these valuable insects as they are both ecologically essential and economically beneficial. Dung beetles save the cattle industry by preventing the spread of diseases (from cattle dung) and removing potential habitats for pests like flies.
We hope you enjoyed this list of interesting facts about dung beetles!
Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with D.
Holloway, J. D. (1992). I. Hanski & Y. Cambefort (eds). 1991. Dung beetle ecology. Princeton University Press, NJ, USA. xiii + 481 pages. ISBN 0-691-08739-3. Price: $60.00 (hardback). Journal of Tropical Ecology.
Nichols, E., Spector, S., Louzada, J., Larsen, T. H., Amézquita, S., & Favila, M. E. (2008). Ecological functions and ecosystem services provided by Scarabaeinae dung beetles. Biological Conservation, 141(6), 1461–1474.
Dacke, M., Baird, E., Byrne, M. J., Scholtz, C. H., & Warrant, E. J. (2013). Dung beetles use the milky way for orientation. Current Biology, 23(4), 298–300.
Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.
Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.
Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.