When examining various types of animal feces, it’s often possible to discern the diet of the animals that produced them. Some insects can also identify what’s in a pile of poop, and it might be just what they were looking for. Enter the humble dung beetle, a group comprised of as many as 9,500 species of detritivores around the planet.
Dung beetles are identified by their primary behaviors: some tunnel, some dwell, some fly, and some—probably the most well-known dung beetles—are rollers. And while not all dung beetles eat herbivorous and omnivorous feces for its protein-rich nitrogen, a majority of them do. From the Natural History Museum in London:
“Eating poo is known as coprophagy. It might sound gross to us but it allows the beetles to access important nutrients that have passed through the guts of mammals. One scientific study identified that dung beetles are actually picky eaters. The beetles target the nitrogen rich particles in droppings.”
The busy dung beetles featured in the video above are likely utilizing the grass-filled zebra feces to lay their eggs, which provides both shelter and nutrition for their offspring.
“They drop off the eggs into the dung and they cover the eggs… and form the round ball. They push their ball backward. When they find a nice and safe spot for them, they will dig down, make a hole, and they will push the ball and hide it inside the hole.
“In the ground is warmer, the fungus will grow into the dung. When the eggs are hatched, the larvae will feed themselves on the fungus. That’s why they’re doing this ball.”
Feces and fungus also improve soil quality; feces returns nutrients and microbes to the soil, and fungi helps decompose organic matter and deliver nutrients to plants.
Watch these beetle and poop-related videos next:
• Why isn’t the world covered in poop?
• Why is soil one of the most amazing things on Earth?
• The GPS-navigated rolling of the dung beetle
• Dung Beetle Battle