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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Creature Feature: Dung Beetles.

Animals do all sorts of weird things involving stuff that humans wouldn't touch. THis has largely to do with that animal's personal world - for example, urine is an excellent indicator of scent (and most of the animal world does see by scent) and rabbits eat their own droppings so as to eat the extra nutrients. It all makes sense in the animal's own view of the world.

That said, dung beetles must be one of the most baffling species in the world to humans. All dung beetles are scarabid beetles, and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica.  Trying to name off every single species would be an exercise in futility. They eat and lay eggs in feces. Gross, right?

What's gross to us is really quite monumental in the beetle's own little world. Dung beetles are amazing. The dung balls that the beetles make are either a) massive food stores or b) nests made of quite a convenient material. The balls of feces they accumulate can be up to ten times their weight, so rolling one is like a single human pushing 6 buses full of people! Also, it's kind of funny that the males are usually the ones doing the rolling- make jokes about THAT at will.

It's a small world, after all.

This use of dung is quite a valuable service. Rolling the dung means rolling foul-smelling excrement away from whatever made it, refertilizing the soil and keeping pests away at the same time. Dung beetles save the U.S. cattle industry somewhere around 38 million dollars every year. Seriously, it's a good thing that somebody is handling the dung; we humans do not want to deal with it ourselves.

Finally, what would an entry on dung beetles be without at least mentioning ancient Egypt? The Egyptians, for all their pyramids, agricultural advances, and nifty inventions believed that the sun was rolled across the sky like a dung beetle rolling excrement. It was also believed that all dung beetles were male and that they reproduced by masturbating into a dung ball. We can understand falcons, ibises, crocodiles, and jackals being impressive. The dung beetles are actually pretty cool, too, but giving them the sun might be pushing it.

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