The Dung Beetle – by Ranger Ruan Roos

by jabulani

Usually, Jabulani first time visitors hope to encounter a leopard or a pride of lions during their visit;
or meet one of the elephants from the Jabulani herd, which is great, and to be expected, especially when it is a first time safari experience in Africa.

However there is so much more to discover, over and above the amazing big animals. Nature’s smaller creatures are as equally as fascinating! One of my favourite’s is the Dung Beetle.

I am going to share some info about these clever insects, for National Insect Week.

About seven thousand different species of the dung beetle, also known as scarab beetles, have been discovered on six continents. They are not found in Antarctica as they cannot survive in cold conditions.

Dung beetles can be divided in to four distinct categories:

1. Telecoprids – The famous dung-ball rollers.  These beetles roll a ball of dung to a suitable location, dig a hole and submerge it. They may collect up to three dung-balls, placing them on top of one another before covering the hole and leaving their larvae in the dung to hatch, feed and transform into adults.

2. Endocoprids – Dung Beetles that burrow and lay their eggs in a fresh pile of dung.

3. Paracoprids –  These dung beetles tunnel to the bottom of a pile of dung to lay their eggs.

4. Kleptocoprids – Known to steal dung-balls from the Telecoprids and lay their own eggs in them.
Their larvae has been known to kill the host beetle larva during development stages.

Dung beetles are hard workers, often carting balls of dung much heavier than their own body weight.
They vary in colour from blue to black to a copper colour. Their life-span is approximately 3 years and they can range from 5mm to 50mm in size.

Although most dung beetles use the sun to find their way, researchers discovered a species in 2003 that use polarization of moonlight to navigate.

Dung beetles play a vital role as nature’s cleaners, clearing dung during summer months; while termites do a similar job in winter. It’s interesting to note that both dung beetles and termites are integral in fertilizing and aerating the earth, as the buried dung will serve as nutrients to the soil once it decomposes in the soil.

For more insight into the dung beetle, watch this interesting video created by Eleanor Slade and Paul Manning

Be sure to keep your eyes close to the ground on your next summer visit to Camp Jabulani; you may just be lucky enough to spot one of these amazing little critters.