Dung beetles are us?

by Ken Carpenter

Ahhh, dung beetles, one of the few totally positive creatures on the planet. They keep the place clean and ask nothing in return. Except, of course, a good supply of droppings.

            There are merely 7000 species worldwide, compared to 44,000 weevils, most of whom are destructive. They are also relatively modern, with dung beetle fossils only going back 40 million years.

Their size ranges from 1 millimeter to 2.4 inches, and they live on every continent except Antarctica. Most of them live from three to five lip smacking years. When you live on dung, every day is a gourmet’s delight.

An African researcher once observed a 3.5 pound pile of elephant dung for two hours, the local video rental place must have been out of movies. He recorded that 16,000 dung beetles of various kinds had eaten and/or buried the entire pile in only two hours. It is maybe not so amazing when you think that one beetle can bury 250 times its weight in a night, and that the largest ones can move a single ball that is 50 times its own weight.

I’m surprised that the Superhero comics haven’t picked up on that and created a Dungman to battle the evil Dungmasters from Crapton.

There is a dung beetle in South America that spends its life riding around on the backs of giant snails, waiting for them to relieve themselves. It is the beetle’s sole diet, and was no doubt the world’s first mobile diner.

Speaking of South America, some Indian tribes believe that the world’s first man and woman were modeled from clay by a dung beetle named Aksak. There are no reports of what else the industrious Aksak may have accomplished, but it does help explain why so many humans are full of manure.

Dung beetles played a huge role in Egyptian mythology, and the scarab beetle, a dung cousin, was considered sacred. Many ancient Egyptians believed that a giant dung beetle kept the world revolving, just as his little brothers did their balls of dung.

There are three groups of dung beetles, Rollers, Tunnelers and Dwellers. The names are kind of self explanatory. You either spend your time rolling balls to and fro, you dig burrows up to three feet deep to hide the balls or you make a ball and move into it.

Dung beetles are thought to be real heroes in Australia. Their native dung beetles did not find cowpies to their taste, since cows were not imported there until 1788, and the millions of undisturbed piles from the bovine herds became an industrial strength breeding ground for flies. With each cowpad producing 2000 flies, in no time there were about 480 thousand million flies with nothing to do except torment every other living thing.

  The Australians did the only thing they could, importing 45 species of dung beetle from other parts of the world. Of those, 20 thrived and their problem is just about solved now. Dung beetles truly make the world a better place.

There is a children’s book called The Dung Beetle Joke Book that is supposedly a hilarious way to bond with your kids. A grandfather and his two grandsons wrote it and two high school students illustrated it. It is set up so that the punchlines to the jokes are in the back of the book, so you and your kids get to try to answer them without looking. Sounds fun, I may have to buy it for my wife.

And now, as some of you may have already surmised, I would be negligent of my duty if I didn’t say a few things about the dung beetles among us. Yes, the human ones, who pack around their own dung, collected for a lifetime, and the gossipy dung they hoard and crave concerning others.

I’ll keep it simple. Let go of the dung in your life that drags you and those you care about down. While dung beetles may argue the point, it does not taste good so there is no point in hanging on to it.

If you are the type who collects big balls of poop about other people, and you enjoy spreading and spewing it around for your own enjoyment, you reap what you sow.

You will end up choking on it, and rightly so.  

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