Dung Beetle Adaptations: How These Remarkable Insects Thrive

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Dung beetles are fascinating creatures that play a vital role in our ecosystem.

As their name suggests, these insects are known for their behavior of collecting and rolling dung, which serves as their primary food source.

Belonging to the scarab beetles family, dung beetles are stout, oval-shaped, and possess clubbed antennae with feathery segments that can be pressed tightly together or fanned open.

These tiny workers offer significant benefits such as improving soil quality and nutrient recycling by burying dung and digging tunnels.

Furthermore, they help reduce parasites and assist in secondary seed dispersal, thereby maintaining a healthy and functional ecosystem.

Dung Beetle Adaptations: All You Need to Know
Dung Beetle

Dung Beetles: Overview

Dung beetles are remarkable insects that play a crucial role in ecosystems by feeding on and burying animal feces.

They come in various species, sizes, and colors, but they all share the common behavior of using dung as a food source and breeding ground.

Dung beetles help break down organic matter, recycle nutrients, and improve soil quality. Their activities also reduce the population of flies and parasites, benefiting both plants and animals.

These industrious insects possess a keen sense of smell to locate dung, and they shape it into balls for consumption or lay eggs within it.

Habitat

Dung beetles inhabit a diverse range of environments globally, from tropical forests to arid deserts. They thrive in grasslands, savannas, and even urban areas.

These beetles are found on every continent except Antarctica. In Africa, they play a vital ecological role in cleaning up the vast expanses of savannas.

South America’s rainforests host numerous species that aid in nutrient recycling.

Europe and North America also have their own dung beetle populations. Some species even reside in Australia’s unique landscapes.

These industrious insects exhibit remarkable adaptability, showcasing their importance in maintaining ecosystem health worldwide.

Splendid Earth Boring Dung Beetle

Diet

Dung beetles primarily feed on feces, a diet that serves ecological and agricultural significance.

They consume both solid and liquid portions of dung, breaking it down into smaller particles.

This process not only recycles nutrients back into the soil but also helps control fly populations and reduce parasite transmission.

By feeding on dung, dung beetles contribute to healthier pastures and ecosystems.

Different species prefer dung from specific animals, ensuring a varied diet and niche specialization within ecosystems.

This feeding behavior showcases the essential role these insects play in maintaining a balanced and sustainable environment.

Life Cycle

Dung beetles exhibit a fascinating reproductive and life cycle that’s tightly linked to their role as decomposers and ecosystem engineers. The life cycle of a dung beetle involves distinct stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

Egg Stage: Female dung beetles lay their eggs within dung balls they’ve crafted from fresh feces.

These balls serve as both a food source and protective shelter for the developing larvae. The size and type of dung used can vary based on the beetle species.

Larval Stage: Once the eggs hatch, the larvae consume the nutrient-rich dung ball. As they feed, they undergo multiple molts, growing in size.

This larval stage can last from a few weeks to several months, depending on environmental conditions and species.

Pupal Stage: After the larval stage, the beetle forms a pupa within a hardened cell made from soil and dung. During this stage, the beetle undergoes metamorphosis, transforming into its adult form.

Adult Stage: The fully developed adult emerges from the pupa and must work its way out of the soil. Once emerged, the beetle begins its vital role in the ecosystem.

Dung beetles engage in behaviors like rolling and burying dung balls for consumption or breeding sites, helping to disperse nutrients and aerate the soil in the process.

Reproduction among dung beetles involves intricate behaviors and adaptations.

Mating typically occurs near dung sources, and competition for mates and resources can be intense.

Some species exhibit elaborate courtship rituals or engage in combat to secure mating opportunities.

The life cycle and reproductive strategies of dung beetles vary among species, depending on factors such as habitat, climate, and available resources.

Danger To Humans

Dung beetles are not dangerous to humans. They primarily feed on dung, aiding in waste decomposition and nutrient recycling in ecosystems.

While some dung beetles can have sharp horns or mandibles used for competing with other beetles or digging, they are not aggressive toward humans and do not pose any threat.

In fact, their ecological role is beneficial, contributing to soil health and agricultural productivity.

Dung Beetle

Dung Beetle Adaptations

One of the biggest adaptations of Dung Beetles to their environment is of course the ability to process waste material for various uses.

They are well equipped for this purpose:

  • Their antennae are able to detect the scent of excrement from quite far off.
  • Their legs are designed to be sticky as well as sharp so that they can use them to grip, dig, and push dung.

How They Process Dung

Dung beetles can eat feces both in the larval stage as well as fully grown adults.

In general, they prefer the dung from omnivores and herbivores, which has higher nutrition since it is less digested.

While the adults suck on the liquid part of the feces, the larvae use up the solid material, thus ensuring that no part of the waste goes to waste (pun intended).

Some species have adapted to even eat the feces of carnivores.

Types of Dung Beetles

Scientists classify dung beetles in three parts, based on the role they play during reproduction: dwellers, tunnelers, and rollers.

  • Dwellers lay eggs on top of manure piles, where larvae hatch and develop.
  • Tunnelers create tunnels and egg chambers in the soil beneath dung, with both parents involved in caring for the larvae.
  • Rollers, the most intriguing group, form dung into balls, offering them to females.

Dung Beetle

Why Do Rollers Roll Dung?

Roller dung beetle females lay very few eggs during their lifetime, so the way they stay and protect their eggs is an important aspect of their survival.

The rolled dung ball offers several advantages to their offspring and themselves, including:

  1. Nourishment and Protection: The dung ball that the male beetle forms and rolls contains a valuable food source for both itself and the female. This dung ball offers sustenance as the female prepares to lay her eggs.
  2. Nesting Site: By burying the dung ball in the soil, roller dung beetles create a secure and nutrient-rich environment for their developing offspring. The dung ball serves as a protective chamber for the eggs and later for the developing larvae.
  3. Escape Rivals: Rolling dung helps the male beetle avoid confrontations with other males that might try to steal the dung ball. This behavior helps the male secure his investment and ensure his reproductive success.
  4. Avoid Parasites: By removing the dung from the open environment, roller dung beetles can reduce the risk of parasitic infection for their offspring. Parasites that target dung-feeding insects are less likely to reach the buried dung ball.
  5. Energy Efficiency: Rolling dung in a ball is more energy-efficient than attempting to consume the entire dung on the spot. This allows the beetles to transport the dung to a suitable location for nesting while conserving energy.
  6. Orientation: Researchers believe that roller dung beetles use the position of the sun or moon to navigate while rolling the dung ball, which helps them move in a straight line away from the dung source and potential competitors.

Conclusion

In summary, Dung Beetles are amazing creatures. These insects roll dung balls to secure nourishment and create protective nesting sites for their eggs.

By burying dung, they avoid rivals and parasites while conserving energy. This adaptation showcases their remarkable ability to navigate and survive in their environment.

These behaviors not only highlight the beetles’ resourcefulness but also emphasize their crucial role in nutrient cycling and ecosystem health.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about dung beetles. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Bug of the Month January 2010: Florida Deepdigger Scarab Beetle

Ed. Note:
Choosing the Bug of the Month each month is a unilateral decision we make based on currency and interest. 

We are so thrilled with the web dialog that sprang up around this posting of the Florida Deepdigger Scarab Beetles, and since Floridians should be encountering them through January, and since there seems to be a dearth of information about them on the web, the decision this month was quite easy.

Beetle Mound Builders
December 30, 2009
Hi Bugman. I’ve got some kind of beetle building mounds all over the property. They do about 25 mounds a day. They might be dung beetles but I don’t know (I tried to match them up with pics online).


My concern is knowing if they are destructive (besides the annoying mounds). I want to do a large vegie garden and so I’m concerned both about the beetles and about insecticide.


A neighbor (I’m new here) said they live in the ground and only build their mounds during the winter but I don’t know if that is correct. I did first notice the mounds when it turned cold here.


They seem to do most of their work at night though I think they build during the day too.


The beetles are about the size of a quarter, maybe a little bigger. They are shiny black, almost bluish when I shine a light on them at night. They have long back legs.


I’ve enclosed a picture of the beetle, the mound and the series of mounds built in just one day.


Would appreciate identifying the type of beetle, knowing whether or not it is destructive and if so what is the best way to control this little lawn beast.
Thanik you.
bugged
Tampa FL

Florida Deepdigger Scarab Beetle
Florida Deepdigger Scarab Beetle

Dear bugged,
We believe this is a Florida Deepdigger Scarab Beetle, Peltotrupes profundus, a species of Earth Boring Dung Beetle, though we are going to request a second opinion from Eric Eaton. 

BugGuide only has two images posted from the genus and indicates they are endemic to Florida.  We are also going to try to locate information on the mounds, and we are not sure if the Florida Deepdigger Scarab Beetle is really the party that is constructing them.

Mound

It is a most interesting question.  Is your soil sandy? because BugGuide indicates they are found in sand scrub.  Is the soil consistent with the coloration of the mounds? 

The Soil Science Society of America Journal has an online article entitled Soil Mixing by Scarab Beetles and Pocket Gophers in North-Central Florida, but there are no images.

Mounds
Mounds

Aren’t you guys wonderful! I just happened upon your website while trying to investigate this bug. Your info is very appreciated.
Yes, the soil here is quite sandy. There is a layer of some top soil but then it turns to an orangey/yellowish/reddish sand, the color of the mounds.

I believe it gets darker red further down as the previous owner had some pvc pipe set up as ballards so when I removed them I had soil borings to examine.

Also, my neighbor was told, when digging his drainfield, that this type of sand is excellent for drainage. This area of Tampa is actually Temple Terrace, named for the then new hybrid temple oranges grown here. My property sits on an old orange grove, so there might be a bit of manure still in the top soil (just a guess; I don’t know).

What is strange is that these mound builders prefer just a few properties near my house, but a block away I don’t see them at all. There is one empty lot here, about an acre in size, and it looks like a moonscape of mounds.

Interesting the conversation at http://bugguide.net/node/view/39946 as it mentions that December is their active season, just now when I am experiencing the little critters.

Thank you so much for your good information. Please do let me know if you find out otherwise or additional from Mr. Eaton.

Eric Eaton forwards identification request to two experts
Daniel:
Florida + scarab = Eric is clueless.  LOL!  I’m sending a copy of my reply here to two eminent authorities on scarab beetles.  Then I will learn something, too!  Sorry I can’t be of more immediate help.
Eric

Arthur Evans forwards identification request to another expert
Paul,
Would you please take a look at the pushups illustrated in the link below and let us all know what you think it is? Many thanks!
Happy holidays to everyone!
Cheers, ART

Confirmation from Paul E. Skelley
Fellow travelers,
You’ve all had it correct. It is Peltotrupes profudus making the mounds. As a new commer to Florida, I am not surprised by Mr. ‘Bugged’ concerns. We get his exact questions several times every year.


The short answer they are really no problem at all. The mounding is temporary, and actually benefitial to the type of grasses we must grow in Florida. As with many related beetles, Peltotrupes is somewhat colonial.

Where you find one, you may find many, and yet, none across the road. Some of this may have to do with their habits of provisioning their burrows with dead plant matter, acorns, etc.

In fact, I believe there is a study or two that link these beetles with oaks and deep sand. I have never heard of any case of these beetles actually damaging a lawn or garden plants. Their eye-sore, nuisance mounds are easily knocked over and are washed away with a couple rains. Golf course grounds people will argue about the mounds being a problem, but the beetles pose no other problems that we are aware of.


As for control, I would not waste my time or money. The mound is spoils of a narrow burrow that goes straight down. These burrows are known to be 10 ft. deep and there is no way to put enough pesticide in the soil to kill the larvae in the bottom of the burrows. For a bit of fun, if you can quickly scrape the mound away and find an open burrow, then take a straight grass stalk or other long thin object and stick it down the hole. I occasionaly do this with my kids and have seen 3 ft. grass stalks simply disappear down the hole.


Inspite of them being hard to kill with pesticides, habitat destruction and mis-management are destroying many populations of these beetles. Plus, I have not seen them in heavily managed – irrigated lawns and suspect these yards do not provide the conditions or food needed for the beetles.


This is a non-pestiferous endemic part of native Florida, Mr. Bugged should be proud to have such an interesting insect in his yard. I wish I had them where I lived, but I live in an area with more clay in the soils.


Feel free to drop me additional questions if needed, Happy New Year!
Paul E. Skelley, Collections Manager
Florida State Collection of Arthropods

What a wonderful reply from Paul. Please thank him for me. Now of course I feel terrible (& poorer) for having applied insecticide which I will stop immediately and just hose down the mounds.
Thank you Daniel for your good work in this matter.
[no longer] bugged
ps, Paul is exactly correct where he references the preferred environment as there is deep sand here and I’ve a number of oak trees.
I’m very pleased to have this information and hope I did not damage the colony terribly with the poisoning I did prematurely.

Letter 2 – African Scarab Beetle is Sun Beetle

Subject: Yellow and Black Beetle
Location: Island of Philae, Lake Nasser, Egypt
November 22, 2012 7:20 pm
Kia Ora Bugman, On a recent visit to Egypt I saw this beetle, but I can’t find a picture online (so far) that will identify it for me, can you help please
Signature: thank you muchly

Sun Beetle

Dear thank you muchly,
We cannot, at this time, identify this lovely Scarab Beetle to the species level, but we believe it is on an Acacia tree, which might help with the identification. 

Hi Daniel,
Thank you for having a look for me. it really was amazing to see it, and I only had about 5 seconds to take the photo, because it took flight and buzzed off louder than a bumble bee.
Once again,  thank you for looking
Regards
Steve

Hi again Steve,
We tried searching again and your beetle looks similar to this
 Pachnoda fissipuncta aemula that we found on the Goliathus.com website, and we believe they might be related, possibly even in the same genus.  Continued searching led us to this Pachnoda marginata on the Afripics website. 

The photo on BioLib also looks like a close match to your beetle.  The Keeping Insects website provides the common name Sun Beetle, and states of the subspecies:  “Pachnoda marginata peregrina, is the most common pet beetle there is. This is mainly because their developmental time is short, rearing is easy and the adults have a nice bright yellow color”.

Correction Courtesy of Karl
Hi Daniel:
It definitely looks like a species of Pachnoda but the posterior dark patches on the elytra of P. marginata don’t look large or bold enough. How about P. savignyi? Here is another good set of photos. Several species and subspecies are very similar and I believe they may be referred to collectively as Sun Beetles. Regards.  Karl

Thanks for the correction Karl.  We chocked the inconsistancy in the patches on the elytra up to individual variation or perhaps subspecies differences.

Letter 3 – Buggy Vocabulary Word ELYTRA: Dung Beetle with Phoretic Mites

Subject: Beetle with Mite Infestation
Location: Wheatland, IN
June 19, 2012 2:37 pm
Hello –
I found this bug in the grass of my in-laws farm in Wheatland, IN. This photo was taken May 12th (warm and humid). Not too sure what kind of beetle this is, or what type of little bug is infesting it. We let the beetle go about his business, but he seemed worse for the wear.

Kept trying to fly off, but his wings seemed to be crinkled up and he couldn’t straighten them. He finally rolled over and laid there for awhile. Came back later and he was gone.
Any info is appreciated. Thanks!
Signature: Mountain Mama

Dung Beetle

Dear Mountain Mama,
These are photos of a Dung Beetle, a group of Scarab Beetles in the subfamily Scarabaeinae (see BugGuide) that collect fresh animal excrement and roll it in a ball prior to burying it and laying an egg.  We are uncertain of the species.  The dung is the food source for the hatched larva. 

Dung Beetles are especially common in areas where there is livestock and Dung Beetles help the decomposition process that returns nutrients and minerals back into the soil in a usable form.  The crumpled wings you mentioned are actually the flight wings of the beetle. 

The first set of wings, called the ELYTRA are hardened and they protect the flight wings that are folded while the beetle is at rest.  Though the Dung Beetle did not go airborne while you were watching, your photo does not indicate that there is any physical problem. 

Your photo is a perfect photo to illustrate the vocabulary word ELYTRA.  Originally we were going to use your submission to illustrate PHORESY, but there are a dearth of good images on our site showing a beetle in flight, so we changed our minds at the eleventh hour.  This image of an Eyed Elater from our archives is also a nice illustration of the ELYTRA.

Dung Beetle showing ELYTRA

The mites on the underside of the Dung Beetle are most likely Phoretic Mites, meaning that they do not parasitize the beetle, but rather use the beetle as a means of transportation.  Phoresy is a term used for hitchhiking on another species.  By hitching a ride on a flying species, the mites are able to be transported to a new food supply.

Dung Beetle with Phoretic Mites

Letter 4 – Australian Scarab

Bess or scarab beetle?
Hi Bugteam,
Me again – your site is too good a resource not to use and to help with local images if I can! Attached are three images of a type of beetle that’s been roaming our backyard this summer. (We also found a few that had been hollowed out by something parasitic.)

It emits a hissing sort of squeak from it,s abdomen when disturbed, picked up or poked by the cat, but it does not spray. Our initial thought was that it was the adult form of the mealworms we (try to) feed our gecko – but doubtful. Trawling through insect books narrowed it down to either a Passalid (Bess) beetle, Scarab or a Christmas beetle.

I was leaning towards the Passalid identification until I came across (on Beetle page 4) one you identified as a Scarab! Can you confirm which is the correct identification?
Cheers,
Jennifer in Australia

Hi Jennifer,
This is a Scarab, but Christmas Beetles are also Scarabs. That common name arises from the appearance of the beetles at Christmas, early summer for you. In the U.S. many Scarabs are commonly called May Beetles or June Bugs because of their arrival time. Sorry we can’t pinpoint the species for you.

Letter 5 – African Dung Beetle possibly

icky beetle!
Hello,
I came across your website and see that you are good at identifying bugs! Attached are some beetle pictures that my boyfriend found inside a box at his retail store.

The bug itself is gone and all he found was the intact shell. We live in Southern California (Temecula) but the box came from somewhere else… from where we don’t know.

I am sure this creature is some sort of rhino beetle…but we were hoping you knew the exact name and just where this fellow came from!! Thanks for your time and enjoy the pictures!!
Lisa and Adam

Hi Lisa and Adam,
We were uncertain as to the identity of your beetle, so we checked with Eric Eaton. Here is his response: “I doubt it is a Strategus. Reminds me more of some of the dung beetles from Africa, actually.

I’d have the person take it to an entomologist at a museum or university (or agriculture department) for proper ID in case it IS something exotic. Actually, I KNOW it is not Strategus. Males of that genus have all horns sprouting from the thorax. This one has at least one horn (looks like a pair) coming out of its head. Eric “

Letter 6 – Australian Scarab

whats my bug!
this bug flew in my window and sat on my computer desk i thought it was super pretty so managed to take some snaps of it but as yet my bug has no name! can you tell me what it is? your site is awesome =)
-Abby (Melbourne, AUS)

Hi Abby,
We are sorry we don’t know your species, but this is a Scarab. We have heard of Christmas Beetles, most in the genus Anoplognathus, and we suspect this might be one of the unpictured species. We also wrote to Eric Eaton who responded: “I would tentatively agree with your ID of the Australian scarab. Certainly something in the same subfamily (Rutelinae).”

Letter 7 – Australian Scarab Beetle: Fiddler Beetle

Could you please identerfy this bug for me it was found in one of my pots underneath the root ball of the plant in Sydney Australia.
Regards
Sherrie Hocking

Hi Sherrie,
This is one of the Scarab Beetles, but we cannot locate an exact species name for you.

Ed. Note: (12/13/2005)
Thanks to Ruth, we now know this is a Fiddler Beetle, Eupoecila australasiae.

Letter 8 – Bee Mimic Trichiotinus Scarab

A Mysterious Scarab Beetle
Hello, my name is Sandy and I am an insect enthusiast from British Columbia, Canada. I have written to your site (which is doing a wonderful service to the public) because I have failed to identify a particular scarab beetle specimen I have found.

It and 2 others were collected on the flowers of a fire weed plant outside of Thunder Bay, Ont. in the summer of 2004. The actual size of the specimen in the photograph is roughly 1 cm. Hopefully the enlargement and the given information will aid you in an identification. Many thanks, I anxiously await your findings.
Sandy

Hi Sandy,
We wrote to Eric Eaton who is a specialist in beetles and he wrote back to us: “This is a species of [genus] Trichiotinus. They are difficult to ID to species without a key. Good mimics of bees, though.” Our beetle guide says they commonly occur on flowers during the day and readily take flight when disturbed.

Letter 9 – Blurry Thing might be Scarab Grub

Subject:  What is it?
Geographic location of the bug:  Central Illinois
Date: 06/16/2019
Time: 04:01 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I was transplanting herbs, moving compost around.
How you want your letter signed:  LoLo

Possibly Blurry Scarab Grub Image

Dear LoLo,
Your image is too blurry to be certain, but since this was found in a compost pile, we suspect it is a Scarab Beetle grub.

Letter 10 – Chafer Scarabs

beetle identification needed
Please help me identify these bugs which are eating my oak tree in Clermont , Florida . Thank you.
Duane Hunter

Hi Duane,
We knew they are some type of scarab beetle but we weren’t sure exactly what, so we asked Eric Eaton. He wrote back: “Yes, they are scarabs of some kind, in the chafer subfamily, but there are many options down there in the subtropics!

Try submitting to Buggguide.net and asking Phil Harpoolitan to look at them. He literally wrote the book on South Carolina scarabs.
Eric”
So, We will contact Phil and get more information.

Letter 11 – Costa Rican Dung Beetle with Phoretic Mites

digging beetle with parasites?
Tue, Jan 6, 2009 at 8:06 PM
The beetle pictured is quite large and heavy. It is common during certain months in Coto Brus which is about 1100 meters altitude on the Pacific slopes of Talamanca Mts. in southern Costa Rica.

This one was on its back and was apparently infested with what look like ticks. I didn’t know ticks parasitised insects. Could you please confirm both the name of the beetle and the creatures in ventral view that appear to be parasites? Third try.
Mary Thorman
highland rainforest sw Costa Rica

Dung Beetle
Dung Beetle

Hi Mary,
Thanks for your persistence. Sadly, we just don’t have time to answer all the letters that we receive. This is some type of Scarab Beetle, probably one of the Dung Beetles. The parasites are Mites. Many Mites are parasitic, but there are also Mites that use flying insects for transportation.

These opportunistic Mites often nearly cover certain beetles, most notably Burying Beetles. In the case of the Burying Beetles, the Mites feed on Maggots that infest the carrion that the Burying Beetles lay their eggs upon. That is a symbiotic relationship.

The Mites are transported to a new food supply, and the progeny of the Burying Beetles don’t have to compete with the Maggots for a food supply. If this is a Dung Beetle as we suspect, the mites may be using the beetle for transportation, but we suspect, because of their location, that they may be parasitic. We would really need an expert opinion on this matter.

Dung Beetle with Mites:  Parasites or Passengers???
Dung Beetle with Mites: Passengers

Letter from the previous day with additional information
Mon, Jan 5, 2009 at 8:14 PM parasitic arthropods on beetle
Hi, again! I thought I had sent pictures of this large beetle with what appear to be parasites infesting it. Are the smaller “bugs” on the ventral surface of the beetle ticks?

They are very tiny, but . . . kind of icky. And can you help me identify the beetle. They are common during certain times of the year here in the highland rainforests of Costa Rica. They are attracted to lights at night and often bash into window with a loud “bam!” If I go outside I can collect a few to feed to my coatimundi the next day.


Mary Thorman
1100 – 1200 meters altitude, southwestern Costa Rica

Update: From Eric Eaton
Daniel:
The Costa Rican dung beetle is probably in the genus Dichotomius (we have at least one species in the U.S.). Those are indeed phoretic (hitchhiking) mites on it.
Eric

Update: Costa Rican Dung Beetle with Phoretic Mites
Fri, Jan 9, 2009 at 11:58 AM
Hi Daniel:
Further to Eric’s comments, there are several species of Dichotomius in Costa Rica; D. annae appears to be a very close match. A brown coloration in the posterior portion of the striations on the elytra is characteristic of the species. This feature seems evident in Mary’s photo, although it looks confusingly like the dirt on other parts of the beetle. Regards.
Karl

Letter 12 – Appears to be a Scarab Beetle

Black ground beetle, I think?
Location: Washington, DC
May 5, 2011 9:00 pm
My friend just found this beetle, thinks it’s cute, and wants to know what to feed it. I’m guessing it’s a ground beetle, so mealworms, maybe?
Signature: Mendez

Scarab Beetle

not a ground beetle.  Camera angle not ideal, but might be a scarab or closely related beetle

Thanks for the quick reply! I actually checked your site’s beetle pics and I think now that it looks most like a patent-leather beetle.

That makes perfect sense.  We will hunt through our unposted letters and prepare your letter to go live.  We are thrilled that you were able to find a possible identity on our site.  We can’t say for certain until we do some research if this is or is not a Patent Leather Beetle, also known as a Bess Beetle. 

The ridges of the elytra or wing covers is consistent with those of the Patent Leather Beetle and the rear legs do seem to resemble this image from BugGuide which is a detail of the rear leg of a Horned Passalus, Odontotaenius disjunctus, AKA a Patent Leather Beetle. 

BugGuide notes:  “Unusual (for beetles) subsocial lifestyle. Adults and larvae live together in family groups in galleries excavated in rotting wood by adults. Adults care for larvae, and actively feed them prechewed food. Both adults and larvae stridulate, which is used for communication within the group. See Generic Guide to New World Scarab Beetles for more details.”  Patent Leather Beetles feed upon rotting wood.

Update: June 20, 2011
We have just received a comment identifying this Scarab as
Phileurus valgus.

Letter 13 – Clown Beetle, NOT Scarab Beetle from Australia

Subject: Little green beetle
Location: South Australia
January 24, 2017 10:51 pm
Hi Bugman,
My name is Brooke. Today I found the cutest little beetle and after hours of failed research I couldn’t find the name! Please, do you know what bug this is?!
Signature: Curiouser and curiouser

Clown Beetle

Dear Brooke,
Because of the general shape of the beetle, and especially the shape of the antennae, we are quite confident this is a Scarab Beetle in the family Scarabaeidae, but alas, we did not find any matching images on the Brisbane Insect website.  Perhaps one of our readers will have more luck than we have had with a species identification for you.

Clown Beetle

Correction:  Clown Beetle, NOT Scarab Beetle
Thanks to two readers who provided comments with corrections, we now know that this is a Clown Beetle in the genus Saprinus.  According to the Australian Museum site:  “Histerids are usually shiny black or metallic-green beetles with introverted heads.

Carrion-feeding forms generally hide under a corpse during the daylight, and only become active at night when they enter the maggot-infested part of the corpse to capture and devour maggots. Like other beetles inhabiting carrion, they have fast larval development with only two larval stages.  Beetles of the genus Saprinus are among the first beetles to arrive at carrion.

The adults feed on both the larvae and pupae of all species of blowfly, although they have a preference for fresh pupae. The adults lay their eggs in the corpse, and the larvae feed on blowfly pupae when they emerge.”  The Atlas of Living Australia has supporting imagery and a nice range map.

Letter 14 – Crawlyback

Subject: larvae or caterpillar or worm?
Location: Fontana, CA
April 6, 2017 9:29 am
I found this “bug” in the dirt of my flower garden next to the fence. My neighbors have an overflowing abundance of woodchips covering their yard. I think it came from there. Is this a worm, a caterpillar, or a larvae?
Signature: Kachina

Scarab Beetle Grub

Dear Kachina,
This is the Grub of a Scarab Beetle.  If you found it in or near the compost pile, it might be the Grub of a Figeater, commonly called a Crawlyback.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com 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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Tags: Dung Beetle

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31 Comments. Leave new

  • pestcemetery.com
    December 30, 2009 4:55 pm

    Those are dung beetle mounds and we see them all the time. The soil here is very sandy with clay beneath that in a lot of areas. The beetles seem to like thinly grassed areas more so rather than spray try planting grass seed or sod. Even with as many mounds as you have spraying is hardly necessary.

    Reply
  • Ya, pestcemetery, now that I understand what I’m dealing with I will no longer spray. My original concern and why I started spraying was based upon being misinformed by this property’s previous owner who told me they’ve a problem with mole crickets, which I understand can be quite destructive.

    Then I got confused when exploring the mounds and using soapy water to bring up the bugs, as I wasn’t finding mole crickets but these beetles.

    Then even while realizing I wasn’t dealing with crickets but with beetles, in researching them early on it looked like they eat roots which causes defoliation. But now with Paul’s information, I’m comfortable hosting this colony here.

    And of course I’m very proud to have been selected as whatsthatbug’s first bug of the month for 2010. Finally, my 15 minutes of fame, courtesy of (a) dung (beetle).

    Reply
  • lol-
    There are lots of bugs you’ll get to enjoy (and not) in our state. I always come here when I’m stumped and Paul is another gold mine it looks like.

    Welcome to Florida, it’s great to have you as a neighbor!

    Reply
  • Great posting! As a fellow Floridian, I see these beetles regularly. I have very sandy soils and lots of Oaks as well. Its great to have so much information. Thanks again for an awesome webpage!!!

    Reply
  • ratsx3chelsea
    January 20, 2010 4:10 pm

    i have these mounds near my house in the spring, and yes the soil is sandy, but i live in the middle of new york! i’ve never seen a beetle like that.

    Reply
  • kevinrhinson
    June 20, 2011 6:08 am

    not a bess beetle. this is phileurus valgus, a scarab.

    Reply
  • I yhink this is the scarab type beetle I was looking for. I had one on my drape by the slider and it was black, shiney, and huge. I live in ocala florida and the grass here is sparse and soil is sandy. My question is, how did it get in my house? It’s not like you wouldn’t see this thing, it was about 3 inches around

    Reply
  • Live in Ocala. Have a huge mound of sand that appeared, literally, OVERNIGHT in our yard. Did not see any “bug” type thing around it. Can you tell me what it might be. Not fireants, I know what they are. I see these sandy, huge mounds along the road in uninhabited areas. Just trying to identify it.

    Reply
    • Late to reply to this, just now scanning various pages. There are many animals that make mounds in any given area. In the Ocala area there are many pocket gophers, Geomys pinetus, a rodent that lives underground that makes large mounds from its burrow digging. It is another interesting native of Florida that is having a difficult time due various factors, and regularly is pushed onto roadsides to survive. While the mounding is unsightly and can cause problems to mowers, and the rodent feed on plant roots and shoots, they are a vital part of a healthy sandhill ecosystem. They recycle leached nutrients up to the plants in their mounds, the mounds are also used by a large variety of other animals and plants as nesting or germination site, and their burrows host an entire fauna of other animals that live no where else. I’m glad you recognized these were not fire ant mounds!

      Reply
  • I know this is about a year and a half later but I live in South Africa and we have bettles very similar to this in almost every garden that feed on Acacias. They’re called African fruit beetles or Pachnoda sinuata. The markings differ a little but it strikes a close resemblance.

    Reply
    • Hi Michael,
      The Pachnoda sinuata we found on the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums website does bear a striking resemblance to the Sun Beetle we have posted. We have already determined that the genus is the same as the name you provided, but we are not prepared to commit to an actual species designation for the individual posted on our site.

      Reply
  • Marcos Gusmão
    May 29, 2014 3:46 pm

    Dear Author,

    I am writting for request your permission for use the dung beetle picture in my presentation, which will be presented in a internal meeting.

    Best regards,
    Marcos.

    Reply
    • Good Evening Marcos,
      We will grant you the permission to use imagery from this posting for your internal meeting. Please mention What’s That Bug? if appropriate.

      Reply
  • Marcos Gusmão
    May 29, 2014 3:46 pm

    Dear Author,

    I am writting for request your permission for use the dung beetle picture in my presentation, which will be presented in a internal meeting.

    Best regards,
    Marcos.

    Reply
  • Plenty of these in my Cape Town garden . They hatch from small pods in my compost heap . I’m also trying to find a name for them and an article on the life cycle .

    Reply
  • This isn’t a scarab. It’s a hister beetle of the genus Saprinus (http://www.australiancritters.com/photos/insects/beetles/round-green-hister-beetle-saprinus-cyaneus.jpg.html; https://australianmuseum.net.au/image/hister-beetle-from-genus-saprinus). These beetles feed on blowfly larvae on dead and decomposing animals.

    Reply
  • I believe this is actually a clown beetle in the genus Saprinus rather than a scarab, although they do look very similar

    Reply
  • Darryl hamilton
    February 16, 2017 2:40 pm

    Thanks for the info. I just noticed a plethora of mounds with small hole in the center. Happened to watching a tv program on Dawson bees whose mounds resembled what I have. But believe I have the scarab instead as I have deep sand, oaks and spare grass under camphor trees. Thanks again

    Reply
  • If you look closely you will notice that the mounds of scarab beetles, particularly the deep digger, invariably reveal their access tunnel entrance is at the base of the mounds, not in the center. A wonderful resident beetle to have in your yard!

    Reply
  • Mohammed Abdelfattah
    July 15, 2017 10:27 am

    Hello!

    I found this beetle in my garden. I live on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. I have an image of the beetle but I can’t seem to upload it as an attachment.

    Reply
  • Mohammed Abdelfattah
    July 15, 2017 10:27 am

    Hello!

    I found this beetle in my garden. I live on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. I have an image of the beetle but I can’t seem to upload it as an attachment.

    Reply
  • So the bottom line is there is no way to get rid of these mounds caused by beetles. So tired of comments made by people what wonderful bug you have in your lawn. My lawn looks terrible with these mounds of sand turning up over night. I want these bugs dead. Maybe finding there access hole and pouring 5 gallons of gasoline down the hole will do it. 10 pounds of pesticide have done nothing. If you don’t have a solution to this problem why are you people even posting.

    Reply
  • Just get an armadella, guaranteed it will root out and eat them. But be willing to accept the holes!

    Reply
  • Patricia Chaires
    May 21, 2020 5:22 pm

    Dear Author,
    I am writting for request your permission for use the dung beetle picture in a chapter of the book about mites and beetles,

    Best regards,

    Reply
  • Patricia Chaires
    May 21, 2020 5:22 pm

    Dear Author,
    I am writting for request your permission for use the dung beetle picture in a chapter of the book about mites and beetles,

    Best regards,

    Reply

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