Dung and the beetles

Sabi Sand | October 2020

In the wild nothing seems to go to waste. Dung, for instance, is considered waste as soon as it exits any system of a living organism. Try explain that to the rollers! You’ll find their very existence depends on wasted poop and as soon as it exits an animal these beetles will pick up the scent of fresh dung and they will literally come out of the woodwork to find it.

There are many theories about the size of the ball rolled by different individuals. From my observation, a pile of dung is like a nightclub where men go to pick up women. You do need to impress though, by at least trying to make an effort by rolling a sizable ball of dung which might attract a female. There are other males that turn out to be lazy and try to steal from the others. So, life is not as simple as rolling a ball and getting a female with whom to mate; you also need to fight to protect both the interested female and the ball – if you’re a dung beetle, that is!

My observation was on a walking tour. We came across a pile of fresh elephant dung where the beetles were just checking into their nightclub to do what they do best. One particular guy decided to roll the biggest ball of poop to ensure he impressed some lady beetle who decided to stick to the ball no matter what. Out of curiosity we decided to stick with this guy to see what he was going to do with his ball and how far away he was willing to struggle with it.

I don’t know if it was bad luck, or just pure lack of thinking ability, but he kept looking to go the most impossible route and the ball kept rolling backwards. His female companion did not seem interested in assisting the poor guy. So much for “Behind every successful man there’s a strong woman”! This woman was not a helper.

The end result was that the ball outmuscled the male beetle and knocked him over on its way down. Poor guy was belly-up and the lazy lady was still holding on for dear life as the ball went to rest in a puddle of water, deep enough to submerge the ball. The male beetle struggled back on his legs, looked around, but found no ball and no woman! He took off probably looking for another adventure.

The female was paddling about in the puddle of rain water and I personally did not feel for that lady beetle. She did nothing to help the guy, the least she could do was help herself! And so we left Nature to her own devices…