The dung beetle has a name which is very appropriate for its day to day activities! This type of beetle is famous for recycling dung, a very important aspect in cleaning up waste and improving the nutrients in soil.
The beetles are typically known to roll elephant dung, but they may roll other animal dung as well. Elephants eat a lot and consequently have a lot of dung, so there’s always work for the beetles to do!
When you see any dung on the road in Kruger National Park (or anywhere in South Africa for that matter), make your best effort to avoid it with your car. Or, if you happen to be at one of the few places in the park where you can get out of your vehicle, mind your step and be careful. You don’t want to squash any of these beetles doing their jobs!
The beetles track dung by smelling it out and then roll it into balls bigger than themselves, up to ten times their own weight! They usually then roll the balls into tunnels that they’ve burrowed into the earth. They keep the dung below ground to eat and to lay their eggs in it.
Once their eggs have hatched, the young beetles also eat the dung and so the recycling continues.
The further impact of moving dung underground helps stop the spread of disease as germ-ridden flies don’t get to it. When the dung breaks down, the remaining nutrients are reabsorbed by the earth, which improves soil quality.
Being underground also gives the beetles more protection from predators, like birds and mongooses. It also limits the competition, by inhibiting other beetles from stealing their dung!
Other than dung, some types of the beetle eat different kinds of things too, such as leaf litter and fallen fruits. When they do eat dung, they prefer that of herbivores though.
There are many different types of this beetle in Kruger National Park, ranging in size from 5mm (0.2 inches) to 5cm (2 inches). You’d need a specialised book to be able to identify all the different kinds. They vary in colour, but the typical image is a black or very dark coloured one.
Some of the species don’t like rolling dung, they bury it on the spot where they find it, while others just live right in it as is.