D is for Dung Beetle

This entry is part 6 of the series Out of Africa

DAbout 75 kms (47 miles) from my home in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, is the magnificent Addo Elephant National Park. The third largest national park in South Africa, it is home to the big five as well as a large number of other animals. It is also home to the flightless dung beetle which is almost unique to that area of Africa.

The first time we visited this park, I was fascinated to learn that the Dung Beetle has right of way on the roads! In fact, if you do make a mistake and drive over one, you are likely to end up with a puncture as they have sharp spines.

As their name suggests, they live on the faeces or dung of other animals, especially that of the elephant and the buffalo. When they trace a pile of fresh dung,they quickly roll some into a ball up to ten times their size, and race from the area. The reason for the hurry is the danger of highway robbers, in the shape of other dung beetles, who will try to avoid the work involved in forming the balls.

The heavy rollers walk on their hands, heads to the ground, and push with their hind legs. They roll the ball in a totally straight line, no matter what’s in their way.

If they sense they are going off course, they pause, climb on top of their dirt ball, and do a little dance. In 2003, a group of researches discovered this is so they can reorient themselves by means of the Milky Way! They are the only known insects at this time who are known to navigate by means of the galaxy.

During daylight hours they rely on the sun for their directions, but that works better in early morning or early dusk, when the sun shines on one side of their bodies. At noon, it is difficult for them to judge as there are no shadows.

Once they find a soft spot of ground, they dig into it and bury the ball. This they use as a brooding ball, where they mate and raise their young, or for food storage.

According to some sources, one dung beetle can bury up to 250 times its weight in just one night. By their conscientious burying of animal faeces, they not only remove it from the scene, thus preventing spread of disease, they add a wealth of nutrients to the soil.

When we think of creation, we think of dinosaurs and elephants, rhinos and hippos, maybe even dogs and cats. But do we ever stop to think that God also created the tiny little dung beetle? And He gave him the important task of helping to clean up after the elephants and buffalo in the land of Africa! Best of all, he taught him that when he goes off course, he only needs to look up to the stars!