How would you like to be a dung beetle? Everything you do, your entire life, revolves around faeces. That doesn’t sound very fun to me! Still, despite their choice of lifestyle, dung beetles are pretty neat. Neat as in interesting or cool, not clean. Because no matter how hard you try, if you spend your life around dung, you can’t be clean. It’s just not possible.

Dung beetles are basically any species of beetle that eat poo. Almost all of them belong to the scarab beetle family (Scarabaeidae), although the superfamily Scarabaeoidea contains all species of dung beetles (taxonomy usually makes no sense). Dung beetles are numerous and wide-spread, with well over 5,000 species living on every continent but Antarctica. They can survive in a plethora of different habitats, from deserts to farms to forests and grasslands. Because really, all dung beetles need to survive is poop. Poop, you see, is full of water and nutrients that didn’t get absorbed by the animal that excreted it. So beetles that eat poo don’t need to eat anything else, or even drink – they get everything they need from the wonderful meal that is dung.

A dung beetle working hard to get its ball of poo to a safe place.

There are three main ‘types’ of dung beetle, classified by the way they deal with poop. Rollers take some faeces and roll it into a ball, to use it for food or as a house for their young. Rollers move their balls of dung in a straight line, no matter what obstacles block their path. They are interesting navigators; some species using the polarization of moonlight to orient themselves, while others can only find their way when the Milky Way is visible (these beetles are the only insects known to navigate using the galaxy). Rollers are also super strong; one species can pull 1,141 times their body weight.

A dung beetle rolling a ball away while a thief looms nearby. Scientists originally thought dung beetles would help each other roll their poop balls, but it turns out they are actually just thieves. Image By Rafael Brix – own photograph, reload of wrong named image (first uploaded on 1. June 2006 as Geotrupes2.jpg), CC BY 2.5

Burrowers are the second type of dung beetle. They bury faeces wherever they find it. This has an immense impact on agriculture, as dung returned to the soil improves the nutrient content and structure of the soil. The removal of dung also helps prevent other pests (like flies) from breeding in it, and saves farmers the trouble of dealing with the faeces. Because of the usefulness of dung beetles, many countries have introduced dung beetle species, which have had very favourable results. The last type of dung beetle are the dwellers, which are probably the least exciting, as they simply live in poop.

I appreciate that dung beetles do good work, but a sight like this would still freak me out. Image by By Alandmanson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

For animals that live in faeces, dung beetles are quite fascinating. And under appreciated by many, I think. Well, hopefully this post can help change that, and you’ll marvel at how wonderful these creatures are.

Cover Image By dasWebweib from Vorpommern, Deutschland – Mistkäfer, CC BY-SA 2.0