Scarab Beetles

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

May 15, 2010

Anthropomorphism, the tendency to describe non-human things in human terms, is generally frowned upon in nature writing. However, used metaphorically, it can serve as a useful shorthand to describe behavior. To say that the fox pups played happily at the mouth of their den does not necessarily mean that the pups are happy—but that they looked happy; i.e., a human acting in the same way would be described as happy.

I mention this as prelude to talking about Dung Beetles.

Dung beetle

Dung Beetle with namesake

Dung Beetles—in this case, the genus Canthon—are among the larger Scarab Beetles. These are the robust little fellows that roll scat up into little balls. That’s nasty enough, but they will lay an egg in that little ball of poop and, when the egg hatches, junior is going to eat it.

What is striking about this process is how excited and, yes, happy, the beetles seem to be while molding and shaping their little fecal treasure into both shelter and sustenance for the next generation of crap-eaters (coprophages, if you want the technical term). They push and shove, pat and stroke, fussing over the feculent orb until everything is just the way they like it.

There are a couple of species of Canthon in our area, but I did not get any photographs of the details I would need to figure out what species this beetle was.

Normally, I see two beetles—a male and a female, I suppose—working over the same ball. In this case, there was only the one. But that one worked the issue frantically for a good fifteen minutes as I watched. It had poop on its head, poop on it s feet, poop in its face—and I do believe it was happier than any pig ever was in a similar situation.

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