Extravagant Recyclers

— Written By Peg Godwin and last updated by
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Are you a conscientious recycler? There are some amazing local creatures that are champion recyclers.

This large dung beetle measuring 2 inches in length was found near the Lenoir and Pitt County line. Dung beetles are found on all continents except Antarctica. They live in farmland, forest, grassland, prairie, and desert habitats using manure, or dung of other animals in some unique ways.

These interesting insects are strong fliers, with long flight wings folded under the elytra (hardened outer wings). They can travel several miles in search of manure deposits from herbivores like cows, sheep, donkeys, camel and oxen. They use their specialized antennae to smell dung from the air. Dung beetles come in a variety of colors, from dull and glossy black to metallic green and red. They live up to 3 years and vary in leg length.

Ancient Egyptians thought very highly of the dung beetle also called a tumblebug. Artwork and jewelry from Egypt contain images of this insect.

There are about 75 different dung beetle species found in North America. They vary in size from 0.5 inch to 2.5 inches depending on the species. A dozen of these species are recognized for burying dung. Scientists group dung beetles by the actions of the different beetles: rollers, tunnelers and dwellers.

Rollers form a bit of dung into a ball, roll it away, and bury it. They can move dung balls weighing up to 50 times their own weight. It is estimated that in one night beetles can bury dung that would weigh 250 times their own weight. The balls they make are either used by the female to lay her eggs in or as food for the adults to eat.

Tunnelers land on manure and simply dig down into the pat, burying a portion of the dung. Dwellers are content with staying on top of the dung pat to lay their eggs and raise the young.

Dung beetles are important to the landscape. They recycle animal dung, loosen the soil, move nutrients into the soil where plant roots can use them and help control fly populations. Our world would be considerable more odiferous place without the recycling of the dung beetle!