June 28, 2019
This is How We Roll...
Here Come the Dung Beetles!
By Steve Kenyon
Busby, Alberta: We have a really crappy job and I would like to tell you a little bit about ourselves. We are known as a scarab beetle or commonly called a dung beetle.
Our family is rather large as there are over 5000 different species in the family Scarabacinae. (We don't have common names and I never took Latin so you can call me the little red guy.) I live in Alberta, Canada, but I have lots of relatives. Locally, there is my cousin the long skinny brown guy, the big black guy, the golden boy, just to name a few of us. But we have family all over the world. I know that we don't normally communicate with humans but I feel that it is important to get my message out. I guess I am a little bit of a dung disturber if you know what I mean. I want to get your attention.
There are three basic types of us. I'm a dweller but I have cousins that are tunnelers and rollers. Dwellers hang out in the dung pat eating manure and we lay our egg in and around the pat. Some of us eat the manure itself but some adults only suck the yummy juice from the pat and dehydrate it. We get our diet from the milions of dead rumen bugs that are expelled with the manure. We lay our eggs in the manure and our larvae will onsume the manure as they become adults.
Now my cousins the tunnelers, just like the name says, will dig a tunnel down under the pat and will take a ball of manure deep down into the soil and lay their egg inside the ball. This is what the young larvae will feed on until they become adults. The rollers seem to get all the credit because the large Afrian elephant dung beetle is quite famous. He is a bit of a glory hog but we all do the same job. Rollers will form a ball of manure and roll it away from the pat until they find a suitable spot to bury the ball. Once the ball is buried the male and female have a romantic encounter and deposit the larvae inside the ball.
We may approach our work a bit differently, we may take our meals from different animals but we all do the same job in the end. Our job is to eat dung, and then we die. Isn't there more to life than that, you say? Yes, yes there is! I am here to tell you that what we do is a very important job for you as a producer.
Let me "break it down for you." In the process of degrading the dung, we are also helping to control parasites and pathogens for your livestock. If we can degrade the dung pat and have it completely gone, the parasite life cycle is disrupted and/or the pathogen has no place to live. Flies are always a big concern. We are a natural fly control. If the dung pat is degraded quickly, then the fly larvae has no place to call home.
We also dig around in the soil. We improve air and water infiltration to help keep soils healthy. Tunnelers are really good at this. You want more rain? Well we can help you hold on to the rain you already receive. Did you know that water is the most important nutrient for any crop? We improve the infiltration and can help reduce the runoff and evaporation from your soil.
We also help fertilize your crop. We move nutrients from the dung pats around in the soil providing many different root systems access to the needed fertility. So we are not just feeding our young, we are also feeding the plants.
Livestock have a bad reputation for emitting high volumes of methane gas. You know the whole greenhouse gas thing? Well, if you allow us to do our work in a well managed pasture situation, we greatly reduce those emissions and actually help the plants reverse this issue by dequestering more carbon. We don't really like the feedlot thing. It's not really a great environment to work in so we tend to stay away. Give us a nice healthy well managed pasture and we are the work crew for you.
We miss the good old days. In ancient Egypt, we were kind of a big deal. We were protected and worshiped as representing Khepri, the god of the rising sun. Still today, our cousins the rollers actually roll their dung balls in relation to the sun. This made them believe that we had a hand in allowing the sun to rise again each morning.
Those days are gone and now we are not treated with the same respect. However, if we put or size into perspetive, you would show us a lot more respect today. Did you know that we are the strongest critter on the planet? We can move over 1100 times our own body weight! Second place goes to the leaf cutter ant. Compared to us he is a light weight and can only move a mere 50 times his body weight. What can you move as a mere human?
We do love our work. And we would love to come work for you. All you need to do is give us room and board. We need food, water and shelter and working conditions that are desirable. For food, we need lots of dung that is free from contaminants. We just like poop, straight up, and with no additives or preservatives. We also need water. We need lots of residue left on the soil surface to keep our environments moist. And shelter, we need a roof over our head with very little disturbance. Give us these few simple things and we will work tirelessly for you, we will never take a sick day and we will work until we die. How is that for a dedicated employee? Can I send you a resume?
Thanks and God bless.
Steve Kenyon ranches in Busby, Alberta, Canada, and can be reached at email@example.com, http://www.greenerpasturesranching.com, or on Facebook at Greener Pastures Ranching. His book, Calendar of a Year Round Grazier is available at https://stockmangrassfarmer.com/bookshelf.