I have a serious question: What happens with all the world’s poop?
Really though, why isn’t the world covered in dung?! Think about it, there are a lot of creatures on this planet. And, frankly, they’re out there producing a lot of waste.
Did you know that a single horse can create over 9 tons of manure a year! 1 Now, fathom all of the horses in the world and the bigger animals like elephants and giraffes. That’s a massive amount of waste… so why aren’t we slogging through poop with every step we take? Is there a magical superhero taking care of it all?
As it turns out, yes! The superhero of the animal kingdom is none other than the dung beetle.
There’s a lot more to these insect friends than their love for poop. Some species are so beautiful they’re even worshipped! But most importantly, they’re all keeping our planet healthy, clean, and well nourished! So let’s see what they’re up to.
First, these poop-loving buddies are not some rare gem of nature from a far off desert. You can find them across the globe! There are 7000 known species of dung beetles scattered across every continent except Antarctica. And they are some of the most vital and under-appreciated animals out there.
These helpful insects, whether they are dung rollers, tunnelers, or dwellers, play a vital role in breaking down the waste of this planet. Along the way they help bring nutrients to plants, help farmers fertilize their crops and even have a hand in reducing greenhouse gasses.
So, to give these guys their moment in the sun, let’s turn to a great piece from TED-Ed.
If you haven’t check out TED-Ed yet, I highly suggest you go explore their YouTube channel. They are a never-ending source of fascinating facts and endless information!
Say thank you!
So the next time you run into a dung beetle, please let them know you appreciate all of their hard work. They help keep soils fertile, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and most importantly keep us all from dwelling in the planet’s dung (that’s their thing).
To be honest, I didn’t know any of this about the dung beetle. And, as a lifelong nature nerd, I’m a little disappointed in myself. I just thought dung beetles rolled around in Africa and sometimes showed up as scarab beetles in ancient Egyptian art. I had no idea they lived in other places!
A quick detour to Egypt…
Did you know that the Ancient Egyptians used images of scarab beetles (what they called a dung beetle) as an important religious symbol? They believed the god Khepri, taking the form of a beetle, rolled the disk of the sun across the sky. Scarabs were carved in precious stone and gold and were symbols of rebirth and renewal. 3
Look at this amazing piece from the famous tomb of Tutankhamun! It was just one of the many treasures and scarab beetle images found buried alongside this, now famous, Egyptian Pharoh.
Now for some real-life beetle gems…
So, as I poked around trying to learn more about these little poop superheroes, I discovered a beautiful species of dung beetle that lives in the American West. These friends are tiny gems in a world of feces, and listening to entomologist Frank Krell, curator of entomology in the Department of Zoology of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, talk about the Rainbow Scarab will get anybody excited to go out and start a dung beetle search of their own!
Take a look at this wonderful little piece from National Geographic.
“Lots of people don’t think about that a small group of insects has a serious effect on their environment or on their livelihoods.”-Frank Krell
This is a wonderful statement for many reasons. First and foremost, it highlights the subtle and often underappreciated way in which the natural world works. So very often, it’s the little things that make life possible. Starting with the microbes that keep us all alive and working our way up to the massive and complex networks that form enormous ecosystems, life is all interconnected.
It’s easy to take the “gross” things for granted.
Overlooked and underappreciated, we look to rid ourselves of them. When, in actuality, they make our lives possible! Here’s a little challenge: the next time you find yourself disgusted, take a step back, maybe do a little research, and you just might, as I did, come out a cheerleader for the oddest things… like the dung beetle.
Stay beautiful & keep laughing!
Looking for more wonderful oddities of nature?
To explore more check out our full animal library. We have articles on all kinds of creatures great and small, you’re bound to leave there knowing a little more about at least one (or seven) of the coolest creatures on this planet.
- Westendorf, Michael. “Horses and Manure.” Equine Science Center, Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, 16 Feb. 2004, esc.rutgers.edu/fact_sheet/horses-and-manure/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2019. ↩
- “Why Isn’t the World Covered in Poop? – Eleanor Slade and Paul Manning.” YouTube, TED-Ed, 26 Mar. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSTNyHkde08. Accessed 28 Jan. 2019. ↩
- The Editors of Britannica. “Scarab.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 3 Apr. 2014, www.britannica.com/topic/scarab. Accessed 28 Jan. 2019. ↩
- “Meet a Beautiful Beetle That Loves to Eat Poop | National Geographic.” YouTube, National Geographic, 15 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRN-Lu-m-oY&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 29 Jan. 2019. ↩