Rolling home… the life of the dung beetle

It is just not the big game to look out for in bush explorations, there are myriads of marvellous creatures performing unbelievable feats of endurance and strength at our feet. Take the little tough-skinned earthmoving machine known as the dung beetle, for example. Nothing will deter from the Herculean task of rolling its precious cargo towards its goal. No time to stop, for there are many dangers to be avoided before reaching its underground destination and safety from competitors and enemies.

It’s fascinating watching the shiny black dynamo, in typical upside down position, as it pushes its larder over stones, sticks, through clefts and puddles until eventually, it reaches cover.

dungThe ancient Egyptians, in about 1500 BC, might have stopped in awe and respect of the scarab, sacred as a symbol of the sun-god Ra, rolling his sphere across the heavens. In those ancient times, dung beetles played a significant role in art and in hieroglyphics and were held in such high esteem that they were buried alongside the great Pharaohs in their hallowed tombs.

Thousand of years later, archaeologists had been greatly puzzled by the round stone balls unearthed during excavations, later identified positively as fossilised dung balls. Having observed that the sacred insects went underground with their precious balls and a month later the progeny, the newly hatched beetles emerged, the Egyptians had been led to believe that the original scarab was reborn, symbolising the immortal soul of man.

Versatile on the ground as in the air (it has powerful wings), the dung beetle’s scent-sense is remarkably efficient for it must be alerted to the presence of dung as soon as wet dung pats are available. Once the task of fashioning the dung into a perfect globe form is complete, the startling upside-down acrobatics come into play with the ball being actually rolled backwards, held and controlled by the two back pairs of legs which the front limbs serve as levers to push the ball, backwards with abdomen in the air, and head down.

During the mating season, the male perches high on his pad, secreting a chemical known as pheromone, which attracts the female of the same species. Once she has answered her mate’s scent signal, the lady dung beetle mounds the ball and rides upon it which the male trundles her along towards the underground bridal chamber, where mating takes place.

Learn more about this amazing insect in “Splash, the baby Hippo” by Sue Hart by downloading the tale from Amazon or iTunes.