Some of the most remarkable beetles are the dung beetles, which spend almost their whole lives eating and breeding in dung’.
More than 4,000 species of these remarkable creatures have evolved and adapted to the world’s different climates and the dung of its many animals.
In the early 1960s George Bornemissza, then a scientist at the Australian Government’s premier research organization, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), suggested that dung beetles should be introduced to Australia to control dung-breeding flies. Between 1968 and 1982, the CSIRO imported insects from about 50 different species of dung beetle, from
Introducing dung beetles into a pasture is a simple process: approximately 1,500 beetles are released, a handful at a time, into fresh cow pats 2 in the cow pasture. The beetles immediately disappear beneath the pats digging and tunneling and, if they successfully adapt to their new environment, soon become a permanent, self-sustaining part of the local ecology. In time they multiply and within three or four years the benefits to the pasture are obvious.
Dung beetles work from the inside of the pat so they are sheltered from predators such as birds and foxes. Most species burrow into the soil and bury dung in tunnels directly underneath the pats, which are hollowed out from within. Some large species originating from
For maximum dung burial in spring, summer and autumn, farmers require a variety of species with overlapping periods of activity. In the cooler environments of the state of
Dung beetles were initially introduced in the late 1960s with a view to controlling buffalo flies by removing the dung within a day or two and so preventing flies from breeding. However, other benefits have become evident. Once the beetle larvae have finished pupation, the residue is a first-rate source of fertilizer. The tunnels abandoned by the beetles provide excellent aeration and water channels for root systems. In addition, when the new generation of beetles has left the nest the abandoned burrows are an attractive habitat for soil-enriching earthworms. The digested dung in these burrows is an excellent food supply for the earthworms, which decompose it further to provide essential soil nutrients. If it were not for the dung beetle, chemical fertilizer and dung would be washed by rain into streams and rivers before it could be absorbed into the hard earth, polluting water courses and causing blooms of blue-green algae. Without the beetles to dispose of the dung, cow pats would litter pastures making grass inedible to cattle and depriving the soil of sunlight.
Dung beetles have become an integral part of the successful management of dairy farms in
1. dung: the droppings or excreta of animals
2. cow pats: droppings of cows