Scientists have long appreciated dung beetles as nature’s indispensable recyclers, without which the planet would be beyond the help of even the most generous Superfund cleanup project. But only recently have they begun to understand the intricacies of the dung beetle community and the ferocious inter-beetle competition that erupts each time a mammal deposits its droppings on the ground.
Dung Beetles revitalize the soil, eliminate noxious wastes Humans don’t like, and they keep pastures clean.
Researchers are learning that every dung pat is a complex microcosm unto itself, a teeming habitat not unlike a patch of wetland or the decaying trunk of an old redwood, although in this case the habitat is thankfully short-lived. For scarabs, it may be said that waste makes haste, and entomologists have discovered that as many as 120 different species of dung beetles and tens of thousands of representatives of those species will converge on a single large pat of dung as soon as it is laid, whisking it away within a matter of hours or even minutes. Little dung will go to waste. One research team in Africa reported counting 16,000 beetles on a single elephant dung pat; when the scientists returned two hours later, the pat had disappeared.
The diversity of beetles that will flock to a lone meadow muffin far exceeds what ecologists would have predicted was likely or even possible, and scientists are being forced to rethink about how animals compete for limited goods and what makes for success or failure in an unstable profession like waste management. They are learning that beetles have evolved a wide assortment of strategies to get as much dung as possible as quickly as possible, to sculpt it and manipulate it for the good of themselves and their offspring, and to keep others from snatching it away
Dung beetles are among humanity’s greatest benefactors. Not only do they remove dung from sight, smell and inadvertent footstep, but by burying whatever they do not immediately eat, they add fertilizing nitrogen to the soil – as opposed to being lost in the atmosphere.
Type of Partnership: Win-Win for Public and Planet
While the dung beetles are nourished with food, for the Public, they remove dung from sight, smell and inadvertent footstep. For both Public and Planet benefit, the dung beetles bury whatever they do not immediately eat, adding fertilizing nitrogen to the soil, as opposed to losing it in the atmosphere.