Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cleaning up the world - one piece of excrement at a time.

On my walk last week, I glanced down and saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Two black  beetles were crossing the street while pushing a giant ball of – wait for it – dung.

“Darn it, where’s my camera when I need it?” I asked my faithful companion, Iris the dog. Her answer was a impenetrable glance, which I interpreted as “Well, you’re the blogger – it’s your responsibility” or maybe “Don’t look at me – I didn’t eat it.”

Being the technology maven I am, I whipped out the cell phone and snapped this picture. And being a cell phone picture, it does not tell the whole story. You will have to trust me that there were two beetles involved.

I first thought these two beetles were working cooperatively to move the ball back to their larder. Very impressive! Of course, ants work cooperatively, but I was surprised to see the beetles working in tandem.

But upon closer examination, I decided something else entirely was going on. One of the beetles was pushing the ball, while the other was clinging to it, riding round and round, scuttling like a lumberjack on a log to keep from being brushed off or crushed.

I imagined the conversation:

“Hey, this is my ball of dung! Leggo!

“No, finders keepers, it’s mine. Get off, it’s mine!”

“It’s mine! Stop pushing! I won’t let go!”


Or maybe this is the explanation (from Wikipedia):

The dung beetles roll and bury the ball for food or for a "brood ball." If for the latter, a male and female beetle will roll the ball. Usually the male rolls the ball and the female hitches a ride or follows along, but sometimes they will roll together. When they find a place with soft enough soil, they bury the ball, mate underground and prepare the ball; then the female lays eggs inside it. The ball provides food for the offspring. Some kinds of beetles will stick around to safeguard their young.

Oh. Apparently it was foreplay.

"Rainbow scarab," a dung beetle,  
Phanaeus vindex MacLachlan 
(Coleoptera: Scarabeidae), male (horned) and 
female. Photo by Drees. From
According to Texas A &M, there are a number of “tumblebugs” in the subfamily Scarabaeinae. Not all of them roll dung, some just burrow down in the dirt under poop piles.

Did you know that dung beetles dispose of 80 percent of the cattle droppings in some parts of Texas? These are beneficial bugs: since they reduce the amount of animal feces, they also reduce habitat needed by “filth-breeding flies.” I think we can all support that.

So if you see a beetle rolling a ball of poop along in your path, please don’t disturb him. He’s cleaning up the world, one piece of excrement at a time.

Favorite spot in the garden:

The day flowers  (Commelina erecta) seem to be at their peak right now. This patch is along (and in) a walkway near my porch – perfectly sited for viewing and appreciating! Day flowers bloom in the morning then close up, blooming for just one day (hence their name). They can be invasive, but aren’t at my house; perhaps because, according to the Wildflower Center, they prefer sandy soil, which I do not have.


  1. I really love the blue of dayflowers. What a remarkable color! I weed a lot out of my vegetable garden but never run out of blooms. In the flower garden where the soil is less loose they are more mannerly and allowed to stay.

    I also love dung beetles. There, I said it!

    1. Yes - to dayflowers and dung beetles! (That's an interesting alliterative combination.)

  2. Wow! I learned something new about poop--and I thought I knew it all after three kids. Thanks, girl!

    1. No problem, cousin. There's always more to learn - about everything!

  3. This really made me laugh-- foreplay. Well different strokes I guess. What a great world!