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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 roll a ball of dung up to fifty times their own body weight.  They have different reasons for rolling dung.  These are the three different types of dung beetles.

  1. The Rollers – The male dung beetles will roll away the dung from the competition and offer it to a female.  Should the female accept the dung ball, they will bury the dung ball and mate after which the eggs are laid in the dung ball.
  2. The Dwellers – These dung beetles will live on top of the dung pile and lay their eggs right there.
  3. The Tunnelers – Dung beetles will bury the dung right it is, making tunnels under the dung. The practice of burying the dung is to keep it “germ” free, as many flies will infest fresh dung. Burying the dung also helps to nourish the veld and keep the earth healthy.

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.

  1. A couple of dung beetles make dung balls,  then the female digs a tunnel with the male dung beetle helping to remove sand from the tunnel. The dung balls are then placed in the tunnel.
  2. After mating, the female dung beetle lays one egg in each dung ball and then seals the tunnel.
  3. After about a week, the egg hatches inside the dung ball and the larva feasts on the contents, therefore having no competition for food and also no threat from predators.
  4. Within three weeks, the larva will change from larva to pupa.
  5. The young dung beetles then emerge and eat their way out of the dung ball and make a new tunnel to crawl out off. Once out, it goes in search of fresh dung. Dung beetles are then ready to reproduce in about two weeks.

You have to keep your eyes peeled when on a Kruger Park safari if you hope to spot a busy dung beetle. They are often seen making their way across roads. Book your Kruger Park safari, get in touch with our team.

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