Given the amount of dung that a single elephant can produce in a day, it’s just as well the beetles are as efficient as they are.
Impressed by this, apparently, the Aussies imported 45 species of the little critters from different parts of the world in an attempt to rid their vast continent of cattle dung.
It’s estimated that dung beetles can bury 250 times their own weight in a day and carry 50 times their own weight, making them serious competitors for ants and bees in the Hard Worker of the Year stakes.
But of course, in whatever society you care to mention, there are always lazy individuals. And so it is with dung beetles.
Some of them are flat-out thieves who will eat and lay their eggs on dung some other industrious poor beetle has collected. To add insult to injury, they may even gobble up the legitimate dung-owner’s eggs.
There are about 7000 species worldwide, some of them as small as one millimetre, whereas the Goliaths of the species can reach as big as six centimetres. Some dung beetles are tunnellers who fly around till they find a pile of dung they fancy and then dive into it head first, before digging a tunnel and dragging as much of it as they can down into it.
Rollers, by contrast, usually have a burrow close to where they collect dung, rolling it into balls to slip down into the larder. The female usually does most of the burrowing excavations while the male spends a lot of his time trying to impress her with the amount of dung he can collect and roll home.
Despite how small they are and how, well, shitty their lives are, their mating rituals are pretty sophisticated. Picture a pair meeting in a dung pat. If the guy fancies the girl, he’ll offer her a brood ball. If she accepts it, they roll away happily together, with her riding on the ball.
As soon as they find a suitable place, they bury the ball underground and then mate. The sex part over, the male then absconds to find other ladies to impress and copulate with, leaving the jilted female behind.
She usually lays a single egg into each ball, covering it over with a mixture of more dung and saliva that hardens to seal in the egg and keep it safe. When the little grub hatches, hey presto, he has a ready meal of scrumptious, nourishing dung right to hand.
If only humans were half so clever, new parents would save themselves a lot of sleepless nights.
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