Dung beetles are energetic fellows sometimes smaller than your fingernail. Their natural camouflage is so effective that you are more likely to spot their balls the size of marbles rolling across a dusty road. They are completely harmless and their shells are thick so you can pick them up between your fingers. Then you discover how strongly they can wriggle, and how their feet stick to your skin.

An Energetic Little Fellow

An energetic little fellow.
By Andrew Ross

So What Is the Big Dung Deal?

Dung – especially from plant-eating animals – is still rich in nutrients after they pass it through. This is part of the cycle of nature where, with the exception of humankind the one hand holds the other. However it is not as nutritious as the original food source. That is why dung beetles process such a lot of it in weird ways.

• The ‘rollers’ take balls several times their own size to their favorite dormitories where they either eat them as a tasty snack, or lay their eggs in them so the nursery is well supplied. They push the balls along with their back feet while lying on their heads so steering is a hit-and-miss affair.

• The ‘tunnelers’ could not be bothered with all that effort. They just bury the dung where they find it, pop inside with their lover, and mate. After that they prepare the nest, the female lays her eggs and their job is over for the day.

• The ‘dwellers’ are even more easygoing. They just mosey around until they find a pile of dung they like. This may be something to do with their powerful sense of smell. After that, they simply burrow in, settle down and make house with a larder next to their bed chamber. Sounds ideal.

The ancient Egyptians knew their bug thing

The ancient Egyptians knew their bug thing.

So What Makes Them Extra Special?

The ancient Egyptians were fantastic architects who moved huge lumps of stone for miles and miles to build their pyramids. It is not surprising they awarded their dung beetles sacred status. After all, the little critters can process 250 times more dung than they weigh in a single day.

They are also able to shift more than a 1,000 times their own body weight when tested. That’s equivalent to you or me moving 6 double-decker buses filled with passengers in one go and that’s astounding. Finally, there’s no need to worry about them getting lost as they go about their business. They navigate by the moon and always get back home at night to their smelly dung ball homes.