Do Dung Beetles Bite? Dispelling Myths and Unveiling the Truth

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Dung beetles are fascinating insects known for their unique behavior of rolling and tunneling through animal feces. While many people might find these beetles unsettling due to their diet, they play a crucial role in maintaining soil health and recycling nutrients in the ecosystem. As a result, it’s natural to wonder if dung beetles pose a danger to humans through biting or other aggressive behaviors.

In general, dung beetles are not known for biting humans or other animals. Their primary focus is on collecting and processing dung for their offspring and their own sustenance. However, it’s essential to note that any creature might bite if it feels threatened or is in a stressful situation.

To better understand dung beetle behavior and its potential impacts or risks, further exploration of their characteristics and habits is necessary. For instance, dung beetles can be categorized into three main groups: dwellers, tunnelers, and rollers, based on their methods of processing dung. Each of these groups may exhibit different behaviors and ecological roles in their environments, highlighting the complex nature of these small yet efficient creatures.

Do Dung Beetles Bite?

Dung Beetles and Human Interaction

Dung beetles play a vital role in grassland ecosystems. Their primary function is to consume feces, which helps fertilize the soil and control pests. As their focus is mainly on dung, human interaction with dung beetles tends to be limited, making bites from these insects quite rare.

A common scenario where people might come across dung beetles is while hiking or walking in grasslands. However, these beetles are not aggressive towards humans, and the risk of getting bitten is minimal.

Defense Mechanisms

Dung beetles use their mandibles to manipulate and shape the dung into balls. Their mandibles are not designed for biting or inflicting pain, and they mostly lack stingers or strong jaws that could cause harm to humans.

Despite the low risk of being bitten by a dung beetle, their defense mechanisms should not be underestimated. For example, some species secrete foul-smelling substances, while others release irritating chemicals when threatened or disturbed.

Examples of defense mechanisms include:

  • Secretion of foul-smelling substances
  • Release of irritating chemicals

However, it is essential to reiterate that dung beetles are primarily focused on dung consumption and play an essential role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Avoid disturbing or harassing these insects to minimize any potential interactions that could result in injury.

Dung Beetle Characteristics

Physical Features

Dung beetles (Family Scarabaeidae) exhibit a variety of physical features depending on the species. Some common traits include:

  • Color: Ranges from dull black or brown to metallic green or blue
  • Wings: Most species possess functional wings and are capable of flying
  • Head: Prominent head with powerful mouthparts to manipulate dung
  • Antennae: Clubbed antennae with feathery segments, allowing for intricate sensory perception

For example, the Onthophagus taurus species is black, while the Phanaeus vindex flaunts a metallic green-blue color.

Behavior and Traits

Dung beetles are classified into various groups based on their behavior:

  1. Dwellers (Endocoprids): These beetles burrow, lay eggs, and feed within or just below fresh dung piles.
  2. Tunnelers (Paracoprids): These beetles dig tunnels below dung piles, moving dung into the tunnels to lay their eggs.
  3. Rollers (Telecoprids): These beetles remove a ball of dung from the pile, rolling it to a secure location away from competitors.

Some key traits of dung beetles include:

  • Larval dependency on dung: Larvae of dung beetles rely on the nutrient-rich dung for sustenance and development.
  • Legs: Dung beetles are known for their sturdy legs, specifically their hind legs, which are designed for rolling dung balls or burrowing.
  • Moisture content preference: Dung beetles typically prefer dung with a higher moisture content for feeding and reproduction.

Pros and Cons of Dung Beetles

Pros Cons
Enhance soil fertility Generally limited to specific environments (e.g., not found in extremely cold or dry areas)
Control pest and parasite populations May be affected by habitat loss or degradation
Facilitate nutrient and waste recycling in ecosystems Some species may compete with native fauna

In conclusion, while dung beetles do not typically bite humans or animals, it is essential to understand their characteristics to gain insights into their ecological significance and unique behaviors.

Types and Habitats

Dung beetles belong to the family Scarabaeidae and order Coleoptera. They play a vital role in maintaining the ecosystem by recycling dung. There are mainly three types of dung beetles: rollers, tunnelers, and dwellers.

Rollers are the beetles that shape dung into balls and roll them away from the dung pile. An example of a roller is the nocturnal African dung beetle, Scarabaeus satyrus.

Tunnelers dig tunnels beneath the dung pile and move dung into these tunnels to lay their eggs. The geotrupidae family, also known as earth-boring dung beetles, belongs to this category.

Dwellers do not roll or tunnel; instead, they lay their eggs in the dung pile itself. The subfamily Aphodiinae is an example of dwellers.

The habitats of dung beetles vary widely, ranging from forests to deserts. They can be diurnal or nocturnal, depending on the species. Some dung beetle species are attracted to dung from specific animals, like elephants, while others are more generalist feeders.

The Scarabaeidae family also includes scarabs, June bugs, and Japanese beetles. These beetles feed on different materials, from dung to plant materials and decaying organic matter.

Type Example Habitat Range Feeding Behavior Time of Activity
Rollers S. satyrus Forests, deserts Shape and roll dung balls Nocturnal
Tunnelers Geotrupidae Forests, deserts Dig tunnels, move dung into tunnels Diurnal, Nocturnal
Dwellers Aphodiinae Forests, deserts Lay eggs and feed within dung piles Diurnal, Nocturnal

Overall, dung beetles are highly diverse in terms of their types, feeding habits, and environmental preferences. Understanding their ecology can help us appreciate their critical role in maintaining ecosystems.

Diet and Ecology

Feeding Habits

Dung beetles are primarily known for their diet of dung. Adult beetles consume dung from herbivores like cows, buffalos, and elephants which provides them with the nutrients they need to survive and reproduce. However, they are also known to feed on other items like:

  • Decaying leaves
  • Fruits
  • Mushrooms

These beetles are considered coprophagous insects, meaning they eat feces from various animals. Some species, like the Deltochilum valgum, also exhibit predatory behaviors by feeding on other invertebrates.

Role in the Ecosystem

Dung beetles play a crucial role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. They are essential for:

  • Decomposition: By breaking down dung, they speed up the nutrient cycling process and help release essential nutrients back to the soil.
  • Pest control: Dung beetles can reduce the population of pest species such as flies that breed in dung and pose a threat to human health, crops, and livestock.
  • Soil aeration: As they tunnel and bury dung beneath the soil, they improve soil structure and aeration, promoting plant growth.

Feature comparison:

Role Benefits
Decomposition Accelerates nutrient cycling in the soil
Pest Control Reduces flies and other related pests
Soil Aeration Improves soil structure and plant growth

In conclusion, dung beetles play a crucial role in various ecosystems. Their diet and feeding habits make them essential contributors to soil health, pest control, and overall ecological balance. It is important to note, however, that dung beetles generally do not bite humans or cause harm to gardens or crops.

Life Cycle and Parental Care


Dung beetles exhibit a unique form of parental care. Both males and females work together to conceal small vertebrate carcasses underground, preparing them for consumption by their offspring. This cooperative behavior allows them to successfully reproduce and maintain their populations.

Development and Growth

The life cycle of dung beetles involves complete metamorphosis, which includes four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The process begins with the following events:

  • Female lays eggs on a dung ball or nearby soil
  • Eggs hatch into larvae after 7 to 10 days
  • Larvae feed on the dung and grow through several molting stages

Key characteristics of larvae include:

  • Whitish in color, gradually turning tan as they age
  • Three distinct body regions: head, thorax, and abdomen
  • Mandibles for feeding on dung

As larvae grow, they eventually reach the pupal stage:

  • Transformation occurs within a protective cocoon
  • Develop adult features, such as wings and hardened exoskeleton
  • Duration varies depending on species and environmental conditions

Comparing larvae and pupae:

Stage Color Feeding Habits Mobility
Larva White to tan Dung consumption Active, able to move
Pupa Darker, resembling adult coloration None, undergoing metamorphosis Immobile, inside a cocoon

Upon completion of pupation, adult dung beetles emerge and continue the cycle by mating and caring for their young. This way, they contribute significantly to the ecosystem by helping recycle nutrients and maintaining soil quality.

Dung Beetles and Pest Control

Benefits to Agriculture

  • Dung burial: Dung beetles collect dung from the surface and carry it underground to feed their young, improving soil structure.
  • Nutrient cycling: By burying dung, they help recycle nutrients back into the soil.
  • Pest reduction: They control populations of pest and parasite species.

Dung beetles can greatly benefit agriculture by improving soil health and reducing pest infestation. These flying insects are found across North America, with some species even helping to protect corn and other garden plants.

Managing Infestations

Methods Pros Cons
Chemical treatments Efficient pest control Harmful to dung beetles
Biological control agents Environmentally friendly May take longer to work

To manage infestations without harming dung beetles, consider using biological control agents rather than chemical treatments, which can have negative effects on dung beetles and other beneficial insects. By promoting a healthy dung beetle population, you can keep unwanted pests in check and support a thriving ecosystem.

Symbolism and Cultural Significance

Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, dung beetles, specifically the scarab beetles, held great symbolic importance. They were associated with the moonlight, representing the celestial cycle and renewal. The rolling of dung balls by these beetles was seen as a symbol of rebirth, reflecting the daily journey of the sun across the sky.

Egyptians considered scarab beetles sacred and created amulets resembling the insects. These scarab amulets were commonly used for various purposes, including protection against evil and guidance in the afterlife.

Scarab Amulets

Scarab amulets were made from various materials like wood, stone, or precious metals. They were worn by Egyptians across all social classes, with designs ranging from simple to highly intricate. These amulets represented different aspects, such as:

  • Renewal and rebirth: The scarab’s habit of rolling dung balls symbolized the sun’s daily journey and was associated with regeneration.
  • Doors and transitions: Scarabs adorned doorways and were believed to ensure safe passage from this world to the next.

Other beetle species, like blister beetles, also held significance in ancient cultures, but the scarab amulet was the most prominent. Comparatively, here is a table showcasing the similarities and differences between scarab and blister beetles in symbolism:

Beetle Type Symbolism
Scarab Renewal, rebirth, protection, transitions
Blister Caution, potential danger

In summary, dung beetles, particularly the scarab beetle, have played a significant role in symbolism and cultural significance in ancient Egypt, representing aspects like renewal, regeneration, and safe passage. Their legacy persists today through the use of scarab amulets, which continue to intrigue and hold spiritual importance for many people.


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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