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Dung Beetles

  • Green dung beetle (Garreta nitens)
    Green dung beetle (Garreta nitens)
  • Bruno de Medeiros with one of the largest dung beetles found in Gorongosa, Pachylomerus femoralis.
    Bruno de Medeiros with one of the largest dung beetles found in Gorongosa, Pachylomerus femoralis.
  • Female Heliocopris sp.
    Female Heliocopris sp.
  • Male Heliocopris andersoni, one of the largest and most impressive dung beetles in Africa.
    Male Heliocopris andersoni, one of the largest and most impressive dung beetles in Africa.
  • Plum dung beetles (Anachalcos convexus)
    Plum dung beetles (Anachalcos convexus)

It is difficult not to be impressed with the incredible forms and colors of dung beetles. In a recent biodiversity survey in Gorongosa, scientists estimated that they collected at least 100 species of dung beetles, perhaps more. This is really good news for the Gorongosa ecosystem. With the decline in Gorongosa’s large mammals, its dung beetles surely must have suffered from the sudden drop in available dung but their habitat is still in good shape. This means that as the large mammals return, dung beetles will be able to build up quickly and resume their thankless but invaluable services.

 

Dung beetles are critically important members of the savanna that dominates Gorongosa, and without them and their waste removal service, the place would quickly sink under layers of dung produced by thousands of animals. When they break down dung, they return nutrients to the soil, which helps plants grow, feeding the herbivores and producing more dung for the beetles.

 

Dung beetles are not only useful and pretty, they are also supremely cool – a recent study showed that they are the only insects known to navigate using the position of the Milky Way and other galaxies. Only humans (and possibly a few other animals) use the position of celestial bodies to find their way around.

 

Check out this time-lapse movie spanning 10 hours of dung beetle activity, showing what happens to warthog dung in Gorongosa: