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What Is a Dung Beetle?

Christina Edwards
Christina Edwards

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.

Dung beetles eat certain types of fungi, such as mushrooms.
Dung beetles eat certain types of fungi, such as mushrooms.

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.

One environment that dung beetles can occupy is the desert.
One environment that dung beetles can occupy is the desert.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a dung beetle?

A dung beetle is an insect belonging to the superfamily Scarabaeoidea. These beetles are known for their remarkable behavior of rolling dung into balls, which they use as a food source or breeding chambers. There are approximately 7,000 species of dung beetles worldwide, showcasing a variety of behaviors and adaptations to their dung-based lifestyle.

Why do dung beetles roll dung?

Dung beetles roll dung primarily for two reasons: as a food source and as a nurturing environment for their offspring. By burying dung, they not only access a rich nutrient supply but also protect their eggs from predators. This behavior also plays a crucial ecological role in nutrient recycling and soil aeration.

How strong are dung beetles?

Dung beetles are extraordinarily strong, with some species capable of pulling over 1,000 times their body weight. According to research, the horned dung beetle (Onthophagus taurus) is known for its strength, making these insects one of the strongest creatures in relation to their size.

What ecological role do dung beetles play?

Dung beetles are vital for healthy ecosystems. They facilitate the decomposition of animal waste, which enriches soil quality and promotes plant growth. Their tunneling aerates the soil, improving water penetration. By reducing dung availability, they also help control fly populations and limit the spread of parasites and diseases.

Are dung beetles found all over the world?

Dung beetles are found on every continent except Antarctica. They inhabit diverse environments from deserts to forests. Their global distribution allows them to play a key role in a wide range of ecosystems, contributing to their ecological importance in various habitats around the world.

Do dung beetles have any significance in human culture?

Indeed, dung beetles, particularly the scarab species, hold significant cultural and symbolic importance in human history. Ancient Egyptians revered the scarab beetle as a symbol of transformation and rebirth, associating it with the sun god Ra. Today, they continue to intrigue scientists and nature enthusiasts with their unique behaviors and ecological contributions.

Discussion Comments


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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    • Dung beetles eat certain types of fungi, such as mushrooms.
      By: Evgenia Silaeva
      Dung beetles eat certain types of fungi, such as mushrooms.
    • One environment that dung beetles can occupy is the desert.
      By: george kuna
      One environment that dung beetles can occupy is the desert.