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Dung beetles


by Richard Jones

There is something quite magical about feeling the massive strength of a giant Geotrupes dor-beetle push its way through gently clasped fingers...


Richard JonesLiving in a city, one of the country things I really miss is the easy search for dung beetles. Growing up at the foot of the South Downs I could quite happily spend an entire day out dunging.

Cows, sheep and horses grazed the rolling hills around my home and their droppings were a rich source of invertebrate fascination whatever the season. There is something quite magical about feeling the massive strength of a giant Geotrupes dor-beetle push its way through gently clasped fingers, then, as it takes to the wing, hearing it buzz off far into the deepening dusk.

For the squeamish out there, all I can do is reiterate the proposal made by the 17th century physician, Cheyne, who said something along the lines of: God made horse dung smell so sweet because he knew mankind would often be in its presence.

Nowadays the only dung I ever get first-hand experience of (although it's usually first-foot experience) is dog, cat or fox, and none of them is renowned for its sweet scent. I have found the odd specimen in the fox dollops that sometimes decorate my lawn, but dung beetles are not very common in my garden. So I was a bit surprised to see one in a spider web a few weeks back. It was Aphodius prodromus, at 5 or 6mm rather smaller than the huge 25-35 mm Geotrupes I used to find, but pretty enough under a hand lens. Spider webs are not long-lived, so this specimen must have been on the wing in mid-December. Fairly unusual I thought.

Even more unusual, Saturday I found the same species walking about on a neighbour's window sill. I picked it up and even at this size I could feel the enormous pushing power it wielded in its front legs as it clawed its way out from between my finger and thumb. And to my delight, when it had escaped from my grasp, it opened its wings and flew away. Dung beetles flying on the 4th of January. What next?



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Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:30

In the summer I can't remember exactly when, I found a rather ill looking Dor beetle and picked it up to see what was wrong. I found it was covered in mite on it's underside, so I took a toothbrush(an old one!) and brushed away the mite and took it down the field to some cow dung, it crawled away and I hope it survived. I read later that Dor beetles are prone to mite.

I too felt how strong it's legs were when I was trying to hold the beetle still.