A whole lot of poo

There are hundreds of species of plants and animals in Kruger*. But one is quite small, rarely seen, and if it is seen, is largely ignored. Yet it is responsible for one of the most critical functions in this large national park – ‘Dung Removal’.

Elephant droppings, already in the process of being removed

Elephant droppings near a river, already in the process of being removed

This is not a task to be dismissed lightly. The fauna of the park includes some rather large species who eat an enormous amount and consequently create huge piles of excrement.

A major source of 'waste' which requires recycling

A major source of ‘waste’ which requires recycling

The main waste recycler is a small beetle. As such, it spends most of its time in the long grass and is effectively invisible. However, on one particular day, we were fortunate to come across not one, but three of these beetles – appropriately named ‘Dung beetles’.

These patient creatures compact the dung of other animals into balls which are larger than themselves. Once nicely rounded, they quickly roll these balls away and may then bury them for safe keeping. Surprisingly, given the amount of dung generated in the ecosystems of parks like Kruger, competition is still fierce and the beetles may lose their ball of dung if it is not quickly hidden.

There are many species of dung beetles in the world, but the shiny ones we saw are apparently called Copris pecuarius.

The reason we could see the dung beetles was because they were moving their balls of dung across the roadway. Unable to get out of our vehicles, we could only drive as close as possible and zoom in with the camera. Consequently, the photos are far from perfect, but they do show amazing creatures working very hard!

Other animals which find dung of interest include baboons. I have watched the young ones pick patiently through a pile of elephant dung, looking for seeds which they ate with relish!

*Kruger National Park is a large game reserve in South Africa.

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This entry was posted in Africa, Kruger National Park, South Africa, Travel, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A whole lot of poo

  1. Good post – you come up with some interesting topics!

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    • Madoqua says:

      Thanks 🙂
      I do find dung beetles quite fascinating. They have tried to introduce them to Australia to reduce the pesky flies in spring time. But I don’t think it worked very well.

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      • Experiments like that rarely do. Either the introduced species becomes too successful and a pest; or their normal niche is so specific that they can’t survive in the new environment.

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        • Madoqua says:

          Yes, I agree with your comments. There have been quite a few disastrous introductions to Australia. One that did work was a cactus moth which was very successful at controlling cactus plants (the latter also introduced!)

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  2. Colline says:

    The power of these beetles is amazing. I keep thinking on how powerful their legs must be to move such a load.

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    • Madoqua says:

      They must be very strong, yet they don’t have big muscular frames. Ants are the same – and they look positively skinny! Perhaps there is a technique -a very efficient way of doing this that humans have not worked out!

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  3. mudlips says:

    Cool!
    Any idea how far these guys might take their dung balls? It’s fascinating to me how nature distributes resources through an ecosystem – possible corollaries include salmon flesh and mychorizae (sp?) in the Pacific NW.

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    • Madoqua says:

      I am not sure. But I will go and do some research and see what I can find out. I imagine that it can sometimes be quite a long way.
      It is interesting how nature ‘wastes’ nothing.

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    • Madoqua says:

      I have looked this up. It appears that some beetles will roll the dung as far as 50 metres. Others bury it on the spot (unless its one a road like these ones were!!).
      Sometimes eggs are laid in the ball; other times, the beetles just keep it for a future supply of food!

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  4. scrapydo says:

    I miss these little beetles here!

    Like

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