It is estimated that South Africa is home to almost 800 species of Dung Beetles, varying in both size and colour. As manure is the chief source of food for both adults and larvae (some also feed on carrion), Dung Beetles perform a vital ecological function by clearing away the droppings of large animals and at the same time fertilizing the ground, planting seeds contained in the dung and keeping pest and parasite populations under control.
When it comes to breeding, Dung Beetles employ one of four strategies. Best known are those that roll the manure into perfect balls (sometimes 50 times their own weight!), roll it to a suitable location using the hind legs (with the female often sitting comically atop the ball), lay eggs inside and then bury the ball. Other kinds “steal” the ball after it was meticulously formed and deposited. Yet another strategy involves burrowing beneath a dung-pile, depositing some of it at the end of the tunnel and then covering it after the eggs are laid inside. The final option is to live and breed in the dung just where it fell. In South Africa, Dung Beetles are most active in the warmer and wetter months with most spending the winter in hibernation. They may live for up to 3 years.
The Addo Flightless Dung Beetle (Circellium bacchus) is a large beetle found only in and around the Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province and one of only a few Dung Beetle species incapable of flight. If it wasn’t for the proclamation of the national park this species would have become extinct, as it feeds on and breeds in only the dung of elephants and buffaloes, both of which were almost exterminated from the Eastern Cape before the national park was proclaimed. It is a slow breeder, females lying a single egg on each dung ball and breeding but once annually. The Addo Flightless Dung Beetle is still considered vulnerable.