Just Keep Rolling: Walking With Dung Beetles

It’s not every day when you go for a game walk and the only animal you see is an insect. It’s also not everyone who can get excited about pile after pile of dung. So granted, our field guide did an excellent job in a difficult situation.

 
 

With the region experiencing its worst drought in decades, the game on the game farm we stayed at were almost non-existent. I say almost, because they sure left a whole lot of evidence behind. Booted up, we waded through dust and dung in search of game in vain. Instead, we had one of the most interesting experiences of our lives as our field guide gave us the inside scoop on dung beetles.

Appropriately named, dung beetles do the dirty work of the animal kingdom – they clean up after others. Depending on the species, they either roll dung into balls, bury it where they find it, or tunnel down and live underneath the dung. Some species even steal dung from others! In the process, they manage to scatter the dung all over the area, which fertilises the ground and minimises the amount of pesky flies about.

Just look at this little guy go:

What do they want with all the dung, you may ask. Well, they extract food from it (all those unused nutrients theirs for the taking!) and they lay their eggs in it (the fresher the dung, the more appealing to a dung beetle). Dung beetles are amazingly strong and, on average, can lift up to fifty times their own weight. In human terms, that’s the equivalent of someone lifting six double-decker buses – imagine the size of that ball!

Fascinatingly, dung beetles navigate by the sun during the day and the stars at night. We saw for ourselves that if you cast a shadow over the little insects and block their view of the sun, they will wander around aimlessly, completely lost until the sun becomes visible again and they get their bearings back. They will also dive-bomb you (much to Gareth’s chagrin) until you stop blocking their view.

I didn’t think it was possible, but we spent about an hour and a half on our feet, trekking dung beetles, our guide pointing out different species and regaling us with factoids, and we were never bored. I’ll never look at dung beetles in the same way again!

What are the most unusual creatures you’ve encountered on a game walk? Have you seen dung beetles in the wild? Did you find them fascinating too?

For more posts in the Babymoon 2015 series, click here.

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