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Dung Beetle

Scientific Name: Many Species in the Family Scarabaeidae
Other names: Common Dor Beetle, Lousy Watchman

picture of a dung beetle
The upturned beetle on the right shows the colony of mites which is usually associated with a Dung Beetle.

Most dung beetles are small and nocturnal, but the larger Common Dor Beetles (Geotrupes spp.) and the Minotaur Beetle (Typhaeus typhoeus) are more easily seen. They are members of the Family Scarabaeidae
Dung beetles are important because they get rid of a lot of animal faeces, breaking it down and incorporating it into the soil, so helping in the recycling of nutrients. This also makes the world a less smelly place to live in and reduces the numbers of other insects like flies which would otherwise breed in it.
In the UK dung beetles utilise the dung of cows, horses, rabbits, deer and sheep, eg. a cow produces about 7 tons of dung per year. The Common Dor Beetle, Geotrupes stercorarius, is known as a 'tunneller', usually found in cow dung; they make tunnels below the dung. They are good at flight and a single beetle flies around until it finds a fresh cow pad. Once a pair have got together they dig a tunnel beneath the pad and drag as much dung as they can down into it. The females normally stay in the burrow, using their long broad legs to build numerous galleries in the soil. Dung is deposited in each gallery and an egg is laid in the dung, providing the emerging grub with nourishment. The males provide the dung pellets for the female to bury. Often they have a colony of mites living on them hence the name Lousy Watchman.
The most common but least seen dung beetles in Britain are in the genus Aphodius, which contains over 1,000 species world-wide, with about 50 species here in the UK. All species of Aphodius are 'dwellers', that is they spend as much of their lives as possible digging around inside some sort of dung. They lay the eggs straight into it and the larvae eat their way through it.
Dung is mostly composed of half digested grass and a smelly liquid portion, and this is what the adults feed on, some of them have specialised mouth parts designed to let them suck out this nutritious soup, it is full of micro-organisms which the beetles can digest.
Dung beetles are often referred to as 'Scarabs' hence the classification Scaraboidea, and in ancient Egypt the scarab or dung beetle was their most important religious symbol.