The wily dung beetle is showcased in the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey, an area that showcases modern animals with their Pleistocene era counterparts found in southern California 10,000 years ago. Dung beetles were just as important to the landscape during the Pleistocene as they are today. They tidied up after a variety of colossal herbivores like ground sloths and wooly mammoths. See if you can tell which variety is on exhibit: rollers, tunnelers, or dwellers.
So what’s so great about dung beetles? They are mighty recyclers! By burying animal dung, the beetles loosen and nourish the soil and help control fly populations. The average domestic cow drops 10 to 12 dung pats per day, and each pat can produce up to 3,000 flies within two weeks. In parts of Texas, dung beetles bury about 80 percent of cattle dung. If they didn’t, the manure would harden, plants would die, and the pastureland would be a barren, smelly landscape filled with flies!
In Australia, the native forest-dwelling dung beetles could not keep up with the tons of manure deposited by cattle in the pastures, causing a tremendous increase in the fly population. African dung beetles, which do well in open fields, were brought to Australia to help with the growing piles of poo, and today the pastureland is doing well and the fly populations are under control.
We may question their lifestyle, but it’s certain that our world would be a much smellier place without the mighty dung beetle!