On the Dung Beetle

by

roll baby

Knowing as I now do the dung beetle, I believe that he would forgive with a shrug the human who gave him his dubious moniker. I must comment, however, that it is a bit misleading. I think it might be more accurate to say “the compost-interested beetle”. If there is an insect with a sense of humor, it is the dung beetle. No doubt he would take a bit of relish from the disreputable nature his name has leant him in the human mind.The dung beetle is largish for an insect. They have a fairly round carapace and very long hind legs. They are generally black, though iridescent greens and blues are seen. The most “in character” feature of their physique is what could be called the moustache. Between his antennae and eyes the dung beetle sports a ridge that resembles nothing more than a pushbroom moustache. This moustache seems to be used as a shovel. The dung beetle also has functional wings which will be neatly folded away most of the time.

Lest you greatly misunderstand his character, the dung beetle is by no means interested in dung for dung’s sake. The beetle is interested in making a cocoon for his child. If all goes well, the dung beetle egg is laid inside a neat, hollow ball of compost material. This clever construction functions as an incubation chamber and source of food for the hatching grub. The beetle will make use of any material he deems suitable for this project. This may be rotting wood or plant matter, it may be ashes, it may be very rich topsoil. Africa being what it is, however, the chosen material is often dung.

The work schedule of the dung beetle goes something like this.

1. Fly around the surrounding area searching for likely work sight

2. Drop to the ground and immediately start digging in

3. form a large ball of your chosen compost material and hoist it out of the resulting hole

4. Push the ball, backwards, for a great distance

5. Plant the egg inside and hope for the best

6. Repeat

No doubt many of you are familiar with the tremendous effort of pushing the ball. However, I think a great deal of worthy interest is in the overlooked flight of the dung beetle. Beetles fall into three categories: flying beetles, flightless beetles, and beetles that fly badly. The dung beetle is of the third variety. If a dung beetle were to pass you by, I suppose you might mistake him for a very large and noisy bumblebee. If you were to watch him closely, and if you are anything like this writer, you might begin to instead imagine a tiny, badly maintained, Russian helicopter with a drunken pilot. They rock, twist, and sway crazily as they slowly cruise along a couple feet off the ground. One day I saw one cruising along and trip up one of his wings on a stalk of long grass then cartwheel to the ground. This marks the only time I have ever laughed out loud at the natural behavior of an insect.

The truly great endurance, patience, and determination of the dung beetle speak to me of an inner layer of humor. If someone told you to make a 6 foot tall ball of packed mud without tools and roll it to China while walking on your hands, you would probably not comply, and have some hasty words as well. Hearing the same challenge, the dung beetle smiles inside knowing he has been underestimated. The response of the dung beetle to pretty much any circumstance seems to be, “Out of my way pal, I got work to do.” He says this just to see the response of any who might challenge him. Then, against all odds and reason, he goes ahead and does it.

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One Response to “On the Dung Beetle”

  1. Home Says:

    This is very nice and informative post. I have bookmarked your site in order to find out your post in the future.

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