3 Surprising Benefits of Dung Beetles
Updated: Mar 15
The non-native Taurus Scarab Beetle (Onthophagus taurus), Gazella Scarab (Onthophagus gazella), and the Bronze Scarab Beetle (Onitis alexis) were intentionally released in California to break down sheep and cow dung on farms. Only a few California native dung beetles adapted to cow and sheep dung since their introduction in California in the early 1500s. Still, the native dung beetles were too small to deal with the large amounts of manure being produced. This led the UC Davis Dung Beetle Project to release four exotic dung beetles onto pastures from 1975 to 1977. Only the 3 aforementioned dung beetles were able to take hold in their new environments. Helping UC Davis spearhead the project was the US Department of Agriculture, Commonwealth Scientific, and Industrial Organizations of Australia. These exotic dung beetles were being released to help benefit farmers in the following number of ways.
Fig. 1. The picture shows one of the three species of dung beetles released to deal with cow and sheep dung, The Taurus Scarab Beetle (Onthophagus taurus). Photo by N.Morrison/MYOPS
1. Dung Disposal:
Dung beetles not only eat dung, but they also bury it and build nest/tunnels underneath the dung. The dung is then placed on the sides of the tunnel walls for the larva to eat. The dung tunnels provide the larva with enough food to grow strong and find a mate to repeat the same cycle eventually. The dung is buried and turned into fertilizer for the pasture.
Fig. 2. The picture shows the process by which dung beetles eat and bury manure. Photo by John R. Anderson, who was the Professor of Entomology at UC Berkeley, and Edmond C. Loomis, who was Extension Parasitologist of UC Davis
2. Prevents Harmful Pathogens:
When the dung beetles bury the dung, flies and other insects cannot spread pathogens present within the dung.
3. Preventing Harmful Runoff:
When the dung of cows and sheep sit on the ground's surface, it allows rain to wash the excrement into the surrounding rivers and basins. The burying of the dung by the dung beetles reduces a large portion of harmful rainwater runoff. The harmful runoff can cause overabundant amounts of bacteria to thrive in surrounding water bodies. The bacteria use up all the oxygen in the water (anaerobic), which kills off fish. The bacteria can also cloud the water and kill off the water plants because they won't get enough sunlight through the murky water (eutrophication).
Do you know of any ways that beetles can benefit humans and the environment? Let me know in the comments. Please like and subscribe.