I am so excited about the announcement of Ted C. MacRae‘s new beetle-based blog carnival, An Inordinate Fondness that I delved into the vault for a special post for its inaugural issue on February 10. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you… DUNG BEETLES!
Yes, only the best beetles know their way around a dollop of dung. Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, which I visited in November 2008, is brilliant not only for birds, butterflies, and sometimes even birders, but basically every other kind of creature that creeps, crawls, slithers, or flies. For example, who knew that the Lone Star State enjoyed such a diversity of dung beetles? I certainly didn’t until I visited the historic King Ranch, spotting not one, but two different types of beetle.
The first waste-wrangler I found was what I thought to be a Northern Malagoniella-Scarab (Malagoniella astyanax). However, Ted politely pointed out that those scarabs are large and shiny, whereas this beetle bears the hallmarks of a Canthon lecontei, which apparently doesn’t have a common name. This species is currently known only from south Texas.
Why do they do it… “it” being both eating dung and rolling it into pretty poop balls? Dung beetles craft fresh fecal matter into proportionally monstrous spheres or ovoids (using their legs and mouth parts — yikes!) in order to roll them into their underground nests. The dung hen will then lay one egg into each dung ball, ensuring her lucky larva a fecal feast upon hatching. Have you ever been so glad to be born a human?
Of course, without dung beetles and their ilk, we may be buried under mountains of manure. I won’t go so far as to recommend you kiss a dung beetle today but at least show a little respect and gratitude! Dung beetles, all in the superfamily Scarabaeoidea, range from merely impressive (try to roll a ball of dung three times your size and tell me how far you get) to magically gorgeous. The following Rainbow Scarab (Phanaeus vindex) is absolutely scintillating. You can tell this beetle is a female due to her absence of horn. What I can’t tell, however, is what manner of bug is perched on her back. I can only imagine they share her interest in dung.
Rainbow Scarab (Phanaeus vindex)