By Spencer Smith. This article appeared in the November 2018 issue of Acres U.S.A.magazine. Read the full excerpt below.
How I Became Interested in Dung Beetles
I only recently became interested in dung beetles, largely because it has only been recently that we have had any to become interested in. As a rancher, I must create the conditions for dung beetles to thrive, and they will come.
The first time I saw dung beetles completely bury a manure pat in a number of hours, I was hooked. I wanted to learn all about them: what they do, how to help them establish in pastures, how they work, etc. My continued observations and research has led our family to develop a deep appreciation of these hard-working creatures. So much so that we created our updated business logo in honor of them.
Our daughter art directed the logo and our neighbor, Brian Taylor, created it. We get a lot of stares when people see our logo on the side of our truck, but we hope it piques their curiosity enough to learn more about dung beetles and the vital role they can play on a healthy farm or ranch.
Dung beetles in pastures is a sign of a healthy and productive land base. However, to the alarm of entomologists and ranchers worldwide there has been a decline in the population of dung beetles on industrially farmed land.
Recent studies of nature’s “pooper scoopers” have indicated that these amazing creatures are important to the health of the soil and to the farmer and rancher’s bottom line.
Types of Dung Beetles
There are three main types of dung beetle, identified by brooding or nesting behavior. The three types include: tunnelers (paracoprids), dwellers (endocoprids) and rollers (telecoprids).
The tunnelers are the most common vartiety on our ranch in Northern California. These amazing workers zip around looking for manure and dive right in. Once the dung beetle finds a fresh pat of manure it begins to eat and tunnel underneath the manure pat. It does this so that it can move the fresh, tiniest pieces of manure down into the soil, where it lays its eggs. The eggs then hatch into larvae that eat the buried manure until they metamorphize into adult beetles.
The dwellers find their ideal homes and set up residence there. These beetles occupy a manure pat, consume massive amounts of manure and lay their eggs in the aboveground manure pat. Some varieties of these dwellers’ larvae are known to eat fly eggs and larvae as well. Establishing a healthy population of dwellers on your farm or ranch will help deter the presence of horn and heel flies, which are livestock pests.
The rollers are the most famous of all the dung beetle varieties with much fanfare surrounding how they work and how they use the stars to locate their home using celestial cues. This type of dung beetle only makes up about 10 percent of all dung beetles, but they do amazing work. Scientists and farmers alike have noticed for decades that when there are dung beetles present there is a dramatic decrease in the fly population
A recent article in Progressive Rancher reveals that the cost of flies to U.S. producers is more than $1.5 billion. Given this staggering cost of managing the impact of flies on livestock, dung beetles could really help producers who are losing livestock production to horn, heel and face flies.
Dung beetles affect the flies in a variety of ways. Dung beetles that roll their prized possessions, or “brood balls,” excrete a chemical on the ball of dung that will repel flies from trying to lay their own eggs on the piece of dung. Other varieties of the dweller beetle larva will prey on the larvae of the flies.
I think the main impact of dung beetles is the fact that they can consume and bury massive amounts of manure each day…
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Spencer Smith is a Savory Field Professional and a huge fan of dung beetles. Savory Global Network hubs provide accredited Holistic Management and regenerative agriculture training and support across the world. Abbey and Spencer Smith manage the Jefferson Center for Holistic Management, the Savory Global Network hub serving Northern California and Nevada. Learn more and contact the Smiths with your grazing and dung beetle-related questions.