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.
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
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:
- Dwellers (Endocoprids): These beetles burrow, lay eggs, and feed within or just below fresh dung piles.
- Tunnelers (Paracoprids): These beetles dig tunnels below dung piles, moving dung into the tunnels to lay their eggs.
- 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
|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
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
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.
|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:
|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.
|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
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 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:
|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.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Dung Beetle
I am a huge fan of What’s That Bug! What a great site and service… And so, I have been trying to figure out what kind of beetle I have found. It had flown into a window at night attracted to the light. It was in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Based on the fact that it has the ridges on its back plates I thought it was a Xyloryctes jamaicensis but one source said that the non-horned female does not fly. This one did… oh, and it was about 2 inches long… Thanks so much
We don’t know what your source is that female Rhinoceros Beetles, Xyloryctes jamaicensis, do not fly. There is an image on BugGuide from North Carolina that was attracted to lights. We checked with Eric Eaton regarding this identification and he responded thus: “Well, the description was a bit misleading. The critter is about an inch long, but very robust and bulky. It is a dung beetle, more precisely, Dichotomius carolinus. They are indeed attracted to lights at night, and fly quite well. As far as I know, even female rhinoceros beetles can fly, too. Eric”
Letter 2 – Dark Flower Scarab
Dark Flower Scarab – Euphoria sepuleralia ?
Sun, Nov 2, 2008 at 5:29 AM
This interesting beetle was hanging out on my humming bird feeder in Seguin Texas. I had to move the beetle to fill the feeder and it seemed to like the slice of apple I put next to it. since it crawled right on and began feed. I think it is a Dark Flower Scarab. Could not find any on your site. so thought you might like a pic. If this is not what I think it is Please let me know.
We believe you have correctly identified your Dark Flower Scarab, Euphoria sepulcralis. BugGuide identifies it as having three distinct subspecies and also indicates the common name Spangled Flower Beetle. Bugguide indicates sightings for this species occur through September, so your individual is off schedule.
Letter 3 – Dark Flower Scarab
Subject: Interesting beetle
Geographic location of the bug: Dalton, Ga. United States
Time: 12:06 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Saw this little beetle flying around, when it landed I noticed a pattern and have not seen this type before. Probably a half inch in size.
How you want your letter signed: JoshP
Based on this BugGuide image and others, we are confident that you encountered a Dark Flower Scarab, Euphoria sepulcralis, and according to BugGuide “Spangled Flower Beetle” is another common name with the justification “Common name proposed here, ‘spangled’ is a coinage, based on white marks scattered on dark elytra. ‘Dark Flower Scarab’ is also an appropriate common name.” According to Featured Creatures: “Little is known about the biology of this species, especially of the immature stages. … In Florida, adults have been collected in all months except October and December, with peak summer abundance in August, at least in Alachua County (Landolt 1990). Adults are found on flowers, where they apparently are pollen feeders, at fermenting sap flows, and on ripe or decaying fruit.”
Letter 4 – Dark Flower Scarab, we believe
Black and yellow fuzzy beetle
Location: San Antonio’ TX
April 5, 2011 8:02 pm
My dog snapped at this beetle while it was flying (thinking it was a fly or bee). He/she fell down and was a little dazed when I rescued him, but he eventually shook it off and flew away… (after getting snapping some photos, of course). He was a little bit flatter than a june bug. He looks similar to the white spotted rose beetles, but his spots are fewer and yellow. I love the fuzz!
Any info would be greatly appreciated.
Hi again Bughugger,
We believe this is either the Dark Flower Scarab, Euphoria sepulcralis, also known as the Spangled Flower Beetle, or a closely related species. You can compare your image to some of the images posted to BugGuide.
Letter 5 – Decapitated Head of a Scarab Beetle
Subject: What’s this bug?
Location: Harrowsmith, ontario
July 15, 2015 7:27 am
Hi I found this on my deck while brushing my cat( not sure if it was on my cat but he has a large sore on his tale. This pic is the underside of the bug. It looks like part of the bug may have been eaten.
This is the decapitated head of a Scarab Beetle. We sometimes receive images of just the heads of large beetles. The nutritious part of the beetle is the fatty abdomen, so a predator probably ate the fat beetle and left the head.
Letter 6 – Delta Flower Scarab
What’s this jaunty fellows name?
Found him on a cluster of white flowers, dragging his back legs behind him as he browsed. Nice sunny day, middle of June in northwest Georgia.
Your beetle is a Delta Flower Scarab, Trigonopeltastes delta. The Delta refers to the letter of the Greek alphabet, and the similarity of the markings on the pronotum to the letter.
Letter 7 – Delta Flower Scarab
beetle, true bug?
A friend in my garden forum found this bug on her roses in Lafeyette, Louisiana. It was about an inch long and was square bottomed. I looked in all your bugs but may have missed something. My computer won’t show me a few of the pics for my own good, it says. Love your site and greatly appreciate the time and effort you all spend educating the rest of us.
Beth from West Tennessee.
This is a Delta Flower Scarab, Trigonopeltastes delta. The adults feed on pollen, but may also chew the blooms. The name comes from the shape of the thoracic markings, thought to resemble the Greek letter Delta.
Letter 8 – Delta Flower Scarab
Sun, Oct 12, 2008 at 3:16 PM
this bug on blazing star in pine wilderness area raised its legs when camera got too close. it is very strking design is it a stink bug?
E. Central Florida
Because of the striking pattern that resembles the Greek letter Delta on the pronotum, which is only partially visible on your photo, this beetle is known as the Delta Flower Scarab, Trigonopeltastes delta. In addition to the blazing star, adult beetles feed on nectar and pollen from flowers like goldenrod and Echinacea to name a few. Your reference to ZZ Top is quite amusing.
Letter 9 – Dung Beetle
I cannot find a good reference on bettles. This scarab looking beetle had a copper colored covering over his thorax much like a triceratops. But the horn curved backwards over its head. The elytra were emerald green. It was found in Immokalee Florida. Sorry I thought it was near dead and didn’t get any better pictures before it flew off. We have peach and citrus groves here.
Ginger M. Allen
Senior Biological Scientist
Florida Master Naturalist Program Coordinator
University of Florida/IFAS
We are honored that you have turned to us for an identification. Your beetle is a Dung Beetle, Phanaeus vindex. Dung Beetles are considered Scarabs. The male and female often work as a team to gather dung, roll it into a ball and bury it with an egg. Your specimen is a male as evidenced by his long curving horn.
Letter 10 – Dung Beetle
Rainbow Scarab photos
Hello, I work for the US Forest Service. This insect blew in my car window as I was driving down the road yesterday, right outside the Silver Mines Recreation Area in southeast Missouri (outside Fredericktown). It took me most of the evening to identify it, finally, from one of your web pages. It’s beautiful. Here are three photos we took in the office. Sorry it’s dead, we were preparing to send it in to our University Extension office before we found your site.
We haven’t gotten a photo of this colorful Dung Beetle in quite a while. Your male Phanaeus vindex, whose sex is identified thanks to his long curved horn, is indeed beautiful. One would never guess that they are one of nature’s garbage collectors, burying animal dung as a larval food source.
Letter 11 – Dung Beetle
Found this guy in swimming around in my pond. Took him out and saved him in a jar with some wood and leaves. I assume it is some kind of Rhino Beetle but I cannort find any pictures of any one as colorful or that looks like this one Can you tell me what it is??
What a gorgeous male Dung Beetle, Phanaeus vindex. He is also known as a Rainbow Scarab.
Letter 12 – Dung Beetle
My husband and I found this interesting beetle flying around our porch light this evening in south central Alabama. It is about an inch long, and nearly as wide. I looked on all 12 pages of beetle pictures on your website, and couldn’t find one like it. It looks somewhat similar to the Colorado Potato Beetle, but the stripe pattern is a bit different, and the head is solid black. Any ideas what this bad boy might be??
Avery and Lance Garner
Hi Avery and Lance,
We believe this is some species of Earth-Boring Dung Beetle in the family Geotrupidae, but we can’t tell which. BugGuide has quite a few species listed. We will see if Eric Eaton can at least narrow it down to genus level. It must have taken you some time to go through all 12 of our beetle pages.
Daniel: The dung beetle (4/22) is an actual scarab, Dichotomius carolinus. Apparently they are pretty common, but I’ve only collected one specimen in the eastern U.S. myself. They bury dung balls, but don’t roll them as Canthon dung beetles do.
Letter 13 – Dung Beetle
I work at a zoo in Colorado and we’ve found these beetles in the dung of both our orangutans and gorillas. They seem to be of the burrowing type, as I’ve never seen them make balls. They are small (only about 1/4 inch in length). Any idea what they are? Thanks!
This appears to be Aphodius fimetarius, a small Dung Beetle that has been reported from Colorado on BugGuide.
Letter 14 – Dung Beetle
Subject: Earth boring Scarab beetle???
Location: Coarsegold, CA
March 6, 2013 12:05 pm
My dad found this bug in his room and it was squeaking to him last night! He lives in the Sierra Foothills of Central California and asked me to help him figure out what kind of beetle it is. I am at a loss and need some help. Do you know what it is?
Signature: Sarah Eagar
This is one of the Dung Beetle, but we are not sure about its exact classification. That will take further research and we will do that later this weekend.
Update: Hi again Sarah,
We looked at the images of Earth Boring Scarab Beetles on BugGuide and they are in the family Geotrupidae. According to BugGuide: “Larvae feed on dung or carrion. Adults feed on dung or fungi, or do not feed at all” which supports our initial identification. This also gives us an excuse to link to a wonderful recent article in the LA Times about Dung Beetles navigating by the light of the milky way. It seems National Geographic broke the story the same day.
Letter 15 – Dung Beetle
Subject: Shiny Black burrowing beetle
Location: Santa Fe, NM
July 5, 2014 10:06 am
Greetings! Love your site. Recently found a beetle in Santa Fe, NM, about 1″ long, and not a Patent Leather Beetle (Jerusalem, Bess, etc. Has ~no~ obvious separation betwixt thorax and abdomen, and no central thoracic line/division. Otherwise, similar, shiny darkest brown, nearly black, but somewhat reddish on the legs (in bright light). Small, clubbed antennae, low & parallel to face. Small curl to right of its face is actually its front foot, antenna better seen on the left.
Signature: Kento in Santa Fe
This is one of the Dung Beetles, but we are not sure if it is an Earth Boring Dung Beetle in the genus Geotropes which is represented on BugGuide or a member of the subfamily Scarabaeinae also represented on BugGuide.
Letter 16 – Dung Beetle
Subject: Unknown bug
Location: Leland NC
May 13, 2016 5:35 am
We found this bug on our front porch last night at the base of a flower. Can you please identify what it is.
Signature: Joe Calla
We believe we have correctly identified your Dung Beetle as Dichotomius carolinus thanks to images posted to BugGuide. According to BugGuide: “A big, black or blackish-brown, and bulky dung beetle. Note prominent striations on elytra, though these are often partly filled with dirt. Pronotum distinctively shaped. Vertex of head has short, blunt horn in male” and the horn is visible in your image indicating your individual is a male. You may enjoy this Gizmodo Dung Beetle Article on Dung Beetles.
Letter 17 – Dung Beetle
Subject: Large beetle
Location: Hanover County, Virginia
June 28, 2017 10:47 am
I need some identification on this beetle. It was in my skimmer box. It’s very large-over 1″ long, 3/4″ wide, and sits up 1/2″ high. All these measurements are with its hairy legs tucked in. It looks like a rhinoceros beetle except for the stripes.
Signature: Judy Hill
We believe we have correctly identified your Dung Beetle as Dichotomius carolinus thanks to the Blue Jay Barrens site where it states: “The beetle at first appeared to be adorned with pale stripes. Closer examination revealed the stripes to actually be soil caked into grooves on the wing covers. Dung Beetle larvae develop in the ground at the bottom of a deep burrow where they feed on a supply of dung placed there by the adult beetle. The beetles can accumulate soil on their bodies when digging nest burrows or when burrowing out of the soil after pupation.” According to BugGuide: “A big, black or blackish-brown, and bulky dung beetle. Note prominent striations on elytra, though these are often partly filled with dirt. Pronotum distinctively shaped. Vertex of head has short, blunt horn in male” and “Said to be so strong that it is hard to hold within a clenched fist.” Your individual appears to possess the “short, blunt horn” indicating it is a male.
Letter 18 – Dung Beetle
Subject: Is this a type of dung beetle..?
Geographic location of the bug: St.Louis MO
August 25, 2017
Sitting on my back patio a little west of St.Louis MO when this guy decided to join… Couldn’t see real well at first since my lights were off and it was dark out… thought it was a June bug but when I grabbed it I realized it was quite a bit bigger than a June bug snapped some pics and let it go out by my garden… it was really strong and had pretty unique 8 white or pearl collered lines 4 on the rear of each wing covers… I can’t find anything online that looks like it please help identify…thanks
How you want your letter signed: Tim H
This is certainly a Dung Beetle, and we believe based on this BugGuide image, that it is Dichotomius carolinus. According to BugGuide: “A big, black or blackish-brown, and bulky dung beetle. Note prominent striations on elytra, though these are often partly filled with dirt. Pronotum distinctively shaped. Vertex of head has short, blunt horn in male.”
Letter 19 – Dung Beetle
Subject: Strange winged beetle
Geographic location of the bug: Near Raleigh, NC
Time: 12:19 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: This bug is stuck between my window and screen. Nocturnal? Difficult to get a photo. Looked like a black beetle until he opened his wings.
How you want your letter signed: Curious in NC
Dear Curious in NC,
This is an Earth Boring Scarab Beetle in the family Geotrupidae, and it really resembles this member of the genus Geotrupes pictured on BugGuide. They are often called Dung Beetles.
Thank you! It was fascinating to watch him. I appreciate the information.
Letter 20 – Dung Beetle
Subject: what is this bug?
Geographic location of the bug: South Central Kentucky
Time: 05:01 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: found this bug in my garage – wonder if it bites and if dangerous
How you want your letter signed: Julie
This is a beneficial Dung Beetle. All around the world, Dung Beetles help to clean up animal feces by rolling the fecal matter into a ball, rolling the ball to an appropriate location, digging a hole and laying an egg. When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the excrement. Based on the Blue Jay Barrens site, we believe your Dung Beetle is Dichotomius carolinus. The site states: “The beetle at first appeared to be adorned with pale stripes. Closer examination revealed the stripes to actually be soil caked into grooves on the wing covers. Dung Beetle larvae develop in the ground at the bottom of a deep burrow where they feed on a supply of dung placed there by the adult beetle. The beetles can accumulate soil on their bodies when digging nest burrows or when burrowing out of the soil after pupation.” Dung Beetles are not dangerous, though the spurs on their legs might pinch if they are carelessly handled.