More fun with insects and the earth

This time, beetles! The beetles that help clean up after certain animals, and enrich the soil in the process (from Meet the Beetles:

One of nature’s most important and overlooked carbon farmers is also an ancient symbol of regeneration and renewal: the scarab.

. . . dung beetle populations were nearly hammered into oblivion in the mid-twentieth century by the pesticides and insecticides of industrial agriculture. Only in recent years has their benefit to nature and agricultural ecosystems been rediscovered, including the role they can play sequestering atmospheric carbon in soil. It’s also been estimated that dung beetles can save farmers billions of dollars every year.

. . .

According to [US government entomologist Truman] Fincher, few people realized the significance of the dung beetles to ecosystems. Beetles are nature’s sanitation crew, he insisted. Their quick burial of dung hastens its decomposition, prevents the loss of nutrients, aerates the soil, and increases the depth of soil containing organic material. That sounds like a recipe for building soil and sequestering carbon.

Not only do dung beetles transport carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus underground when they remove manure, feeding the microbes a rich diet of organic food, their tunnels increase porosity in the soil, which means more water and oxygen reach the microbes as well, revving up their tiny engines. This increases storage of carbon in the soil, with important positive implications for watershed health, plant growth, food production, pollution abatement, and climate change.

The removal of the dung in short order prevents certain other insects from using it for their purposes – like the horn fly, which in its adult form bites cattle, and can cause infections. The flies also spread a variety of diseases that humans are vulnerable to.

The beetles are apparently not native to North America – populations had to be introduced from Europe and Africa – but then, cattle raised on this continent, and the horn flies, aren’t either. This appears to be a case where bringing in yet-another non-native species, and further altering the ecosystem, is of more benefit than it is trouble.


About Fjothr Lokakvan

More or less Northern Tradition polytheist.
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3 Responses to More fun with insects and the earth

  1. Amanda says:

    Are you sure there aren’t any native species? I’ve never heard that before. I assumed they had plenty of bison dung to roll before we brought in cattle.

    The species I have in my neighborhood is a little iridescent bottle-green one that rolls dog and cat poop just as well as cowpats. They’re pretty fun to watch.

    • I’m not sure – I was puzzled that they had to import species from other continents, actually, because bison were here first, and I think I’ve seen beetles called “scarabs” in some of my insect guides (but I don’t know if “scarab” always means “dung beetle”) – maybe the reason for the imports was that native species weren’t attracted to domestic cattle manure. I don’t know. I haven’t read up on the beetles beyond this one article.

      • Amanda says:

        I did some quick searching, and it looks like we both might be right. The green guys that I’m familiar with are called “rainbow scarabs” Phanaeus vindex and appear to be native. But there’s another one Onthophagus gazella that was imported to North America from Africa. Seems like a dumb idea to me if we already had dung beetles here, but then again, they also imported a lot of non-native grasses for cattle to eat when we already had perfectly good grasses as well. People just can’t leave well enough alone I guess.

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