It is safe to say that for a dung beetle, poop is life and not vice versa. These unique little crawlies not only feed on dung but make a living out of it—literally. Can you imagine living in a house made of poop? Before you jump to say “Eww”, hear these beetles out. Some dung beetles live inside a dung pat and are called “dwellers”, some are “tunnellers” and tunnel underneath the ground, whereas some simply roll away a dung ball and are called “rollers”. These beetles have played an important role in nature, by quietly recycling dung on the earth’s surface, since millions of years.
These dung–loving beetles can be found in every continent except Antarctica, in habitats ranging from forests, grasslands, agricultural fields to deserts even. Any geography where dung or decaying organic matter is present, the beetles will be there. For a dung beetle, where there is dung, there is a way.
In ancient Egypt, dung beetles were considered sacred. One particular species—Scarabaeus sacer—was linked to the sun god, Khepri. The ancient Egyptians believed that Khepri was responsible for the sun’s rising and setting each day just like the dung beetle would turn pieces of dung into a ball and roll it away.
There are thousands and thousands of species of dung beetles, belonging to various families under the superfamily of Scarabaeoidea of class Insecta. Some of the beetles do not depend only on dung, but also feed on detritus (bodies or segments of dead animals, like dead millipedes for example) and other decaying organic matter. This means that these beetles and their dung-feeding habits are not exclusive to any one particular species or genus.
With the constant removal of dung, these beetles prevent the breeding of parasitic flies and other pests that are found in dung. Often seeds can be found in animal poop, so while moving or burying dung balls, dung beetles contribute to the dispersal of seeds, which is important for the survival of several plant species. While tunneling and maneuvering dung across or into the soil, dung beetles create passageways for air, water, and nutrients from the dung to move into the soil.
Dung beetles might seem small and insignificant, but they play a vital role in the day-to-day functioning of nature. So, the next time you see one, be sure to give it as much attention as a tiger in a forest.