There are things in this world that were meant to be together. Peanut butter and jelly. Baseball and hotdogs (or beer). And of course, dung beetles and dung.
Dung beetles are probably most famously known for their comical dung-rolling behavior, but not all dung beetles harvest poop in this way. Many dung beetle species tunnel deep underground with their harvest, and the north american species, Phanaeus vindex is no exception.
Phanaeus vindex is a bejeweled scarab beetle found east of the Rocky Mountains, and their tunneling behavior is vital to the American agricultural industry. After a mating pair is formed, the two will form a “brood ball” from the dung and burrow beneath the site. The brood ball is deposited in the tunnel, and the female will oviposit her eggs inside. After the eggs hatch, the developing larvae will feed off the brood ball before they eventually pupate, and emerge as an adult.
So how does this behavior benefit farmers? Studies have shown that tunneling dung beetles can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cow dung by burying their dung underground. Not only are emissions reduced, but the burying behavior enriches the surrounding soil through nutrient recycling.
Additionally, removing dung from the surface means that parasites and flies cannot use it to reproduce, effectively reducing the spread of disease.
Evidence of the dung beetle’s success in nutrient recycling is especially evident in Australia, where the natural ecosystem was heavily disrupted following white colonization and the introduction of grazing ruminants. In order to help alleviate the accumulated waste of these novel species, dung beetles were successfully introduced and the poop crisis was averted.
However, the introduction of new species is a controversial and tricky process, and scientists argue that importing new species of dung beetle to help our native species could backfire; the introduced species could run the risk of outcompeting the native species like Phanaeus vindex.