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What Is a Dung Beetle?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Dung beetles are types of beetles that consume the fecal matter of mammals. There are several species of these beetles, which can be found all around the world. These beetles not only eat waste products of animals, but they also sometimes live in and mate in it.

A true dung beetle comes from the Scarabaeoidea family, and the Scarabaeinae and Aphodiinae subfamilies. The ancient Egyptians deemed them sacred, and referred to them as scarab beetles. Technically, any beetle that uses fecal matter is considered a dung beetle, and some beetles from the Geotrupidae family are considered dung beetles. These include earth-boring dung beetles.

The scarab beetle can be found just about everywhere in the world. In fact, the only continent that does not have these beetles is Antarctica. These beetles also live in several types of habitats, including woodlands, deserts, and grasslands.

A dung beetle can find excrement a few ways. Some of them locate it using their excellent sense of smell. Other smaller beetles will hitch a ride on an animal and wait for it to defecate.

Different types of scarab beetles are sometimes classified as rollers, tunnelers, or dwellers. These descriptions refer to what the beetle does with excrement. Roller dung beetles will roll the dung into a ball before doing anything else with it. Those classified as tunnelers will bury the excrement, and dwellers will bore a cavity in the excrement before living in it.

Most scarab beetles will primarily consume excrement. This waste contains all of the nutrition that the beetles need throughout their lives, and they will not usually need to consume anything else. Sometimes, however, the beetle will also feed on decaying plant matter and certain types of fungi, like mushrooms.

Besides eating excrement, this beetle will also create a nest in it. This is sometimes referred to as a brooding ball. The male will typically roll the excrement ball to a suitable location while the female follows along. Sometimes, however, they will work together in this task.

When they reach an area where the ground is soft, they will then bury the brooding ball and burrow into it. After mating, the beetle will lay eggs inside the ball. The excrement provides food and shelter for the larvae until they grow into adults.

While they may seem rather unpleasant to some, there are several benefits of dung beetles. They can help remove and bury dung in grazing pastures, which will help keep flies away from livestock. Removing the manure will also allow the livestock to graze in more areas of a pasture. Also, in underdeveloped countries, this beetle can help clean up human excrement that would otherwise be a health issue.

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Discussion Comments
By HuggingKit — On Oct 20, 2014

While it's true that dung beetles eat poop, not just any old poop will do. Different species of dung beetles prefer certain fecal matter from specific animals.

An example: early settlers brought over dung beetles to the U.S. from Australia that lived on kangaroo dung, The beetles wouldn't clean up after the livestock, like horses and goats.

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