How Fast Can Dung Beetles Move? Speed and Strength Unveiled

The dung beetle is a fascinating insect with remarkable abilities associated with its primary task of locating, processing, and burying dung. These beetles can be found across the globe and play a crucial role in maintaining ecosystems, as they help recycle nutrients and reduce harmful greenhouse gases. One characteristic that stands out is their impressive speed and strength.

Dung beetles, for instance, are known to travel long distances and roll balls of dung that can weigh up to 10 times their own body weight. They can also bury dung 250 times heavier than themselves in a single night link. These insects exhibit agility and endurance while performing their duties, making them efficient navigators and workers in their environment.

Some dung beetles even use celestial signals to direct their movements, ensuring they follow a straight path while rolling their dung balls during the day link. This intricate navigation system, combined with their physical prowess, signifies the amazing adaptability of dung beetles, making them truly remarkable creatures.

Overview of Dung Beetles

Dung Beetle Classification

Dung beetles belong to the order Coleoptera, family Scarabaeidae, and subfamily Scarabaeinae. They are classified into three main groups:

  • Telecoprids: Roll dung into balls and move them away from the original dung source.
  • Endocoprids: Live within the dung source and carry out their life cycle there.
  • Paracoprids: Bury dung into the ground under the original source.

Dung Beetle Habitats

Dung beetles inhabit various environments, such as:

  • Grasslands
  • Forests
  • Deserts
  • Farmlands

These insects play a crucial role in recycling nutrients in ecosystems.

Size and Physical Features

Dung beetles vary in size, ranging from 2-30 millimeters. They have some common physical characteristics:

  • Oval, stout bodies
  • Clubbed antennae
  • Strong legs enabling them to move and manipulate dung

For example, the Phanaeus vindex found in Texas A&M University is between ½ and 1 inch long, with a metallic blue-green and copper color. The difference between males and females of this species is the horn: males have a curved horn extending from the front of the head, while the slightly larger females lack this feature.

Roles in the Environment

Types of Dung Beetles: Rollers, Tunnelers, and Dwellers

There are three main types of dung beetles:

  • Rollers: Create and roll dung balls away from the dung pile.
  • Tunnelers: Bury dung directly beneath the pile.
  • Dwellers: Live within dung piles, and do not move it.

For example, the Scarabaeidae, Geotrupidae, and Aphodiinae are families of beetles that are known for removing, burying, or consuming dung. Each type has distinct behaviors and plays different roles in the environment.

Seed Burial and Seedling Recruitment

Dung beetles contribute to seed burial and seedling recruitment through their activities. By rolling or burying dung, they inadvertently move seeds away from their parent plants, promoting seed dispersal and vegetation growth.

For instance, one study found that nine Scarabaeidae species, including endocoprids, paracoprids, and telecoprids, were involved in seedling emergence as a result of their dung manipulation.

Nutrient Recycling

Nutrient recycling is another vital role played by dung beetles. They break down dung, aiding in nutrient cycling in ecosystems and improving soil fertility. Earth-boring dung beetles, for example, are essential in mixing and aerating soil through their dung burial activities.

Comparison of Dung Beetle Types:

Type Behavior Example Family
Rollers Roll dung balls away from the pile Scarabaeidae
Tunnelers Bury dung directly beneath the pile Geotrupidae
Dwellers Live within dung piles, not moving it Aphodiinae

Pros and Cons of Dung Beetles in the Environment:

Pros:

  • Seed dispersal and seedling recruitment, promoting vegetation growth.
  • Nutrient cycling and soil fertility improvement.
  • Reduction of parasites in the environment.

Cons:

  • Some species may compete for limited resources, such as dung.
  • Sensitivity to environmental changes, such as temperature, may affect their ecological functions.

Diet and Nutrition

Fresh Dung and Decaying Leaves

Dung beetles, being a part of the scarab beetle family, have a unique diet consisting primarily of feces1. Their strong sense of smell helps them locate fresh dung, which serves as their primary food. Some species also consume decaying leaves and mushrooms, supplementing their diet.

Herbivores, Omnivores, and Carnivorous Species

Dung beetle species can be classified into different categories based on their feeding habits:

  • Herbivores: Consume only plant-based dung
  • Omnivores: Consume both plant-based and animal-based dung
  • Carnivorous: Feed on other insects and occasionally their dung

For example, Deltochilum valgum is a rare carnivorous dung beetle2.

Feeding Habit Example Species Diet
Herbivores Aphodius species Plant-based dung
Omnivores Onthophagus species Plant-based and animal-based dung
Carnivorous Deltochilum valgum Insects and occasional dung

Nutrient Intake and Benefits

Dung beetles obtain vital nutrients from their diet:

  • Protein: Obtained from the dung of herbivores and omnivores, crucial for growth and reproduction
  • Fiber: Obtained from decaying leaves and plant-based waste materials present in the dung, helps in digestion

Their unique dietary habits provide the following benefits:

  • Breaking down and redistributing nutrients in the ecosystem
  • Aerating the soil through their nesting and tunneling activities3
  • Controlling populations of coprophagous insects, indirectly benefiting human and livestock health

In summary, dung beetles have a distinct diet based on feces, with variations in their feeding habits that impact ecosystems positively.

Reproduction and Parental Care

Mating Process

Dung beetles reproduce sexually, involving the joining of sperm from the father and eggs from the mother. Males locate and court females by quickly stroking their antennae and front legs on the female’s body. This specific process helps initiate the mating cycle.

Brood Balls and Nest Building

In some species like the Scarabaeus sacer, or sacred dung beetles, the parents have a unique method of ensuring their offspring’s survival:

  • Parents create brood balls from dung, which will house and provide nourishment for their developing larvae.
  • These brood balls are carefully shaped and rolled away from the dung source to prevent competition.
  • The nest building process is crucial for providing safe and nutrient-rich environments for offspring, as well as promoting seedling recruitment in the ecosystem.

Larvae Development

During the larvae development phase:

  • Females lay their eggs inside the brood ball, ensuring the future larvae will have enough food to grow.
  • After hatching, the larvae consume the dung within the brood ball, growing and molting a few times before reaching the pupal stage.
  • Eclosed adult beetles emerge from the pupal cases and begin their lives as new agents of the dung beetle community.

Dung beetle parents provide a certain level of parental care by creating brood balls, nests, and ideal environments for their offspring to develop. This process is essential for the survival and growth of the beetle population and contributes to maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

Feature Sacred Dung Beetle Khepri
Mating and Reproduction Sexual reproduction and courtship Based on the dung beetle species
Brood Ball Creation Carefully crafted from dung Shared feature
Nest Building Rolled away from dung source Shared feature
Larvae Development and Care Eggs laid inside brood balls Shared feature

Strength and Speed

How Fast Is the Dung Beetle?

Dung beetles are known for their remarkable strength, but they also have impressive speed. They can roll a dung ball weighing up to 10 times their weight and travel long distances to find their preferred poop. While exact speed measurements are scarce, these beetles need to maintain a speedy pace to cover up to 30 miles in search of dung.

Strength Comparison to Other Insects

Dung beetles, especially the species Scarabaeus viettei, are renowned for their incredible strength. In fact, they are considered the strongest animals in the world, capable of pulling 1,141 times their body weight. That’s like a human pulling six fully loaded double-decker buses.

To better understand their strength, let’s compare them to two other insects:

Insect Strength-to-weight ratio
Dung Beetle 1,141x
Ant 50x
Termite 1x

As you can see, dung beetles vastly outshine ants and termites in terms of strength capabilities, making them extraordinary insects.

Cultural Significance

Symbolism in Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, dung beetles, specifically the species Scarabaeus sacer, were revered for their perceived connection to the skies. They were believed to roll dung into a ball, similar to how the god Khepri rolled the sun across the sky. This association led to the creation of scarab beetle amulets made of faience, a glazed ceramic material, usually blue or green in color.

Literature and Science References

Dung beetles have found their way into literature as well. Notable examples include a poem by William Butler Yeats entitled “The Collarbone of a Hair” and the short story collection “Insects: An Explanation” by Frederick Merrick White. In science, the dung beetle has become a symbol of nutrient cycling and habitat conservation.

Fossilized Dung Balls and Evolution

Fossilized dung balls, known as coprolites, provide insights into the evolution of dung beetles and their ecological importance. For example:

  • The study of coprolites helps us understand prehistoric ecosystems
  • These fossils indicate the types of plants and animals that inhabited specific regions
  • Dung beetle evolution may be traced through changes in coprolite morphology
Time Period Habitat Dung Beetle Species
Ancient Egypt Nile River Valley Scarabaeus sacer
Prehistoric Times Varies (based on fossils) Undetermined

Pros of studying dung beetles:

  • Better understanding of ecosystem dynamics
  • Insight into nutrient cycling and seed dispersal

Cons of studying dung beetles:

  • Limited fossil record
  • Difficulty in identifying species from coprolites

Footnotes

  1. Missouri Department of Conservation – Dung Beetles (Tumblebugs)
  2. Carnivorous Dung Beetle – Deltochilum valgum
  3. Investigating the Dung Beetle Population at the Beef Grazing Farm, UW

Authors

    by
  • 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.

  • 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.

17 thoughts on “How Fast Can Dung Beetles Move? Speed and Strength Unveiled”

  1. The mites are probably a species of Macrocheles (family Macrochelidae). These phoretic mites commonly ride on dung beetles. They feed primarily on nematodes and fly eggs/larvae. – Barry

    Reply
  2. Though they might not seem the most logical choice of edible insect, dung beetles [adult-stage] are avidly consumed in Thailand and possibly neighboring countries. They’re soaked in water for a period of time, then roasted, “peeled,” and devoured. I haven’t tried them yet.

    Dave
    http://www.smallstockfoods.com

    Reply
  3. Genus Trypocopris has some individuals that look similar to this little fellow. From what I’m seeing, Trypocopris pyrenaeus has been reported in Portugal and looks somewhat similar, though the photos on google don’t show colors anywhere nearly spectacular as the one in the photo here.

    Reply
  4. I think Jacob is right. Trypocopris pyraneaus seems to have a lot of color variability, but if you look for subspecies or variant coruscans, you’ll find some that look a lot like this guy. Very cool beetle.

    Reply
  5. Are these dung beetles rare? I found one — looks exactly the same — in the Los Gatos Mnts. Have good picture if interested.

    Reply
  6. Daniel , You have a beautiful Bradycinetulus ferrugineus ! They are rare as Eric said and come to lites. They are really cute and interesting little guys . Cheers ! Gene St. Denis Sierra Nevada Research

    Reply
  7. Daniel, After further review….It could also be Bradycinetulus rex . It is in Bradycinetulus for sure and They are very few seen alive ( usually dead) , and at one time they were being considered to be combined with Pleocoma . But, thankfully that idea was nixed. Cheers and God Bless ! Geno P.S. Two days ago we received an 1 inch and a half of Snow at Tahoe’s Lake Level !

    Reply

Leave a Comment