Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's what's for dinner

These are some representatives of my favorite beetles... yes, dung beetles, the ones that eat poop! When I was going to school and doing a project for an ecology class, I kept getting funny looks when I mentioned that I was doing something with dung beetles. I assumed that they were because most people don't like to play with poop, but then another student asked me "How are you going to do a project with dung beetles when they only live in Africa?" I was stunned, since we have over 100 dung beetles in Florida and many more in the whole US. To put another myth to rest, not all dung beetles roll balls of dung. The little black one (Aphodius bicolor)burrowing under the poop in the top picture represents a whole bunch of really small dung beetles that are usually found inside the dung or directly under it, and so they are termed "dwellers". Many of these are about the size of a grain of rice. The middle picture with the white background is of a "tunneler", this one being Onthophagus concinnus, and they usually take chunks of their favorite food down in a burrow below the main pile, either to suck the juices out of it or to lay their eggs in so that their larvae (babies) can eat the stuff and grow up. Most of the ones in that genus, Onthophagus, range in size from about the end of a pencil eraser to maybe the size of your pinky nail. The USDA introduced some other species of them from Africa to bury cow patties, as our native dung beetles were not able to do a good job with big blobs of herbivore dung in grassy fields, and when the pies sat on the surface, the cows didn't want to eat the grass near them and rain washed all of the poop into our waterways. The last picture is of a female Rainbow Scarab (Phanaeus igneus). They do break off chunks of dung and "roll" them a ways before burying them, but they do not make round balls and push the stuff along in front of them. Sorry to ramble so much, but these are my favorite beetles and I could go on for pages about them. If anyone is interested, I can post a picture of a trap to catch dung beetles so that you can see what lives in your area, but you will have to bait it with their favorite food.

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