Dung Beetles

Family Scarabaeidae

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.

16 thoughts on “Dung Beetles

  1. naturebackin

    An interesting post about these fascinating beetles. I was not aware of the Addo flightless dung beetle before and its dependence on elephant and buffalo – and on the continuing existence of the Addo national park!

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      To me that’s such a wonderful example of the value of national parks, Carol – a park set aside for the protection of the last 11 elephants in the Cape saved this and other species from being lost forever.

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  2. BETH

    This may seem incredible, but as a child, I loved watching these guys work. We had cows, pigs and horses, so you can imagine all the manure in the open field, in the barns and everywhere. Thanks for the great childhood memory.

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  3. Don Reid

    They are such fascinating creatures – love watching them in action. The last time we visited Addo we enjoyed regular sightings of them along the roads, but we were constantly in fear for their survival as some visitors seem not to notice them, despite the signage warning of their presence, and they run the risk of being trampled by vehicles.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Sadly being trampled by vehicles is a very real concern for dung beetles and many other smaller species of wildlife. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse road in terms of such roadkill than the stretch between Upington and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

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  4. Anne

    Sadly there were no dung beetles to be seen on my most recent trip to Addo. They are fascinating creatures to watch as the roll their balls of dung over very rough ground. Frequently they remind me of the saying, “Try, try, and try again …”.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      They certainly are an excellent example of perseverance without complaining!

      I think with warmer (and hopefully wetter) weather on the horizon Addo’s dung beetles should be out and about soon. Perhaps reason for you to go back and check up on them, Anne?

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