When we think of dung beetles, we tend to think that there is only one type of dung beetle; the little guy on a mission, rolling a ball of dung bigger than him. But there is actually about 8000 species of what we call dung beetles.
The dung beetles found in the Kruger National Park fall into the family known as “Scarabaeidae” and then into a sub-family called “Coprinae”.
Most of the time dung beetles are seen when they are rolling dung, but actually, these beetles fly to where the dung is. Dung beetles have a keen sense of smell and can pick up the smell of dung from a vast distance. They then take off flying up and down, following the smell in the wind, usually landing with great accuracy, right on the dung or very close to it. Dung beetles are like the refuse removal men who come once a week to remove our garbage. These beetles play a huge role in ‘recycling’ and putting back into the soil the nutrients the earth needs.
Dung beetles can dispose of an animal dropping in a very short period of time, however, dung is left untouched in the dry season when insects are dormant. In bad veld conditions, droppings are often left for years and this is an indicator of serious soil problems. The presence of dung beetles in an area is an indication that the veld is in a very good condition.
A study done on the dung beetle showed that they actually climb onto their ball of dung in the heat of the day to cool their feet off. Other studies have shown that dung beetle moves away from their dung piles in straight lines. Unlike humans, they are able to see a symmetrical pattern of polarised light that is around the sun because they have special photoreceptors in their eyes.
Dung beetles are found on every continent except Antarctica. These hardy beetles are found in deserts as well as forest areas. Although most dung beetles prefer the dung of plant-eating animals, there are those that will eat the dung of animals that eat both plants and meat.
For ancient Egyptians, the species of dung beetle known as “Scarabaeus Sacer”, was sacred. Ancient Egyptians believed all dung beetles were male and that they reproduced by depositing their semen on a ball of dung. This belief came about because the dung beetle was linked to “Khepri”, who was the god of creation and said to have created himself out of nothing. Images of the dung beetle were found at excavations, made from precious metals, bone, ivory and even stone. Many of these had small holes bored into them to allow them to be worn as jewellery.
The average lifespan of the dung beetle is between 3-5 years. The life cycle of the Kruger dung beetle is quite complex in comparison to other beetles.