Pasture Janitor, Bug Exterminator, Excavator – The Handy Dung Beetle
Photo Animalia Arthropoda Insecta Coleoptera Polyphaga Scarabaeiformia Scarabaeoidea / by Craig Pemberton / CC BY-NC-SA
Quietly emerging en masse in late spring and early summer, you see them quietly going about their business – the tank of the insect world, the dung beetle. Undaunted by terrain or obstacles, tirelessly balling up and pushing around balls of manure. You probably don’t even think about the huge multi-faceted service they are performing for you around your barn, pastures and home. Oh, in the back of your mind, you know the basics..that they move poop around. But their service goes so much deeper than that.
When we look at the parasitic lifecycle, one of the top methods of exposure is through horses passing parasites through their manure and re-infecting themselves and their herdmates. With a couple of horses in a small area it might be feasible to manage things via simple manure management techniques like poop scoop duty and composting. However, for larger herds on larger properties, it can be quite a daunting task to keep the property poop free! Enter the “Poop Patrol” – the industrious dung beetle!
Dung beetles via their manure collection activities help to break up the manure, freeing the parasite eggs from their protective shell of manure and exposing them to the open air and sun1. What doesn’t get left behind and killed by the drying sun are taken deep into the ground via a network of burrowing tunnels for the dung beetle larvae to feed upon but no longer accessible to foraging livestock. According to Texas A & M AgriLife Extension, dung beetles may be responsible for recycling as much as 80% of cow manure from Texas pastures!2 So not only are they helping interfere with the parasite lifecycle, they are also helping to control the disease and parasite-carrying fly population that perpetuates off the presence of fresh manure.
There are numerous varieties of these “recyclers”. While most people are familiar with the Egyptian-type scarab dung beetle, there are several varieties in the Scarab family that feast on leaf litter, fruit, plant roots and even carrion. The “June Bug” is one of these varieties that feed on plant roots.3 The dung beetle larvae or “grubs” live in burrows underground feeding on dung where they later go through a pupal stage and then emerge as adults.
Photo Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve / by mbarrison / CC BY-NC-SA
So the next time you see these hard-working scavengers rolling their precious package by you, think kindly on them and give them a little “thank you” for a job well done! Remember that blanket insecticide applications will affect our good bugs as well as our bad bugs. Select your insect control strategy to take our helpful bulldozers of the insect world into account.
- Dung Beetles As Biological Control Agents For Gastrointestinal Parasites Of Livestock – http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3278842?sid=21105822898663&uid=4&uid=2. Accessed 2/12/15.
- Dung Beetle – http://texasinsects.tamu.edu/bimg146.html. Accessed 2/19/15.
- Not to be confused with June bugs, also members of the Scarab family – http://www.everythingabout.net/articles/biology/animals/arthropods/insects/beetles/june_bug/. Accessed 2/12/15.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork, using essential oils for animals and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the “whole horse”.
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