By: Anthony Dinglasan
Can you imagine a creature that would rely on animal feces for their food? Or can you imagine a creature that would use dung to feed their children? Now, imagine that same creature shaping the environment since the Ancient Egyptians. This creature is the Dung Beetle.
What Are Dung Beetles?
Dung Beetles are a subspecies of Scarab Beetles; known for their distinct heavily-armored bodies and compact structure. They only have three parts to their body – the head, the prothorax (the first pair of legs), and the abdomen. Unlike most species, dung beetles have adapted to live on every continent of the planet except for Antarctica. What makes them unique, however, is their incredible strength (relative to their size). By positioning themselves into a ‘handstand’ and using their back legs to push objects, dung beetles can hold “1,180 times its own weight and pull 540 times its own mass with its claws.”- BBC. According to Galileo Galilei in his book Two New Sciences (1638), this is because strength is determined by a creature’s ‘strength-to-weight ratio.’
This means that the strength of a creature is relative to its mass. So, a smaller animal is proportionally stronger than a larger one. Also, larger animals must dedicate most of their energy to support their own weight. Consequently, not much energy is left to support additional mass. However, dung beetles are extremely light, so they can dedicate most of their muscle to carry heavy objects. Also, dung beetles have very simple body functions. On one hand, humans require energy for complex systems such as the nervous system. On the other hand, dung beetles only need energy for simpler systems such as the respiratory system and blood circulation. This means that the beetle can invest more of its energy into building strong muscles. As a result, these factors give dung beetles exceptional strength – and the ability to roll dung.
Why is Rolling Poop So Important?
Dung beetles roll balls of feces into elaborate tunnels so they can feed and breed. In doing so, they recycle nutrients back into the soil – enriching its nutrient levels. This prepares the soil to produce healthier crops. Also, by removing dung from the ground, they prevent populations of parasitic flies from breeding in the fresh feces of mammals. In short, dung beetles prevent disease and prepare soil for future crops. Even the Ancient Egyptians worshipped these creatures for their amazing strength and impact on the environment. Who knew transporting poop could be so important?