Return of the Dung-Beetle

Discussion in 'Breeding, Raising, Feeding and Caring for Animals' started by PeterFD, May 5, 2010.

  1. PeterFD

    PeterFD Junior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2009
    Messages:
    143
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Return of the Dung-Beetle

    Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed quite an infestation of black Dung-beetles in the pasture/parkland where my herd of goats browse.

    They quite diligently collect the little round balls dropped by the goats and appear to be taking them to the edge of the pasture where the tree-line starts.

    This is the first time in the past six years I’ve ever seen a dung-beetle.

    Anyone care to voice an opinion on what this actually means?

    I did install a swale earlier in the year at the top of the sloping pasture/parkland so the soil humidity has greatly increased. Also, we have had an enormous amount of rain this year!

    p.s. I live in the southern French Alpes at an altitude of about 500 metres

    Thanks,

    Peter
     
  2. Tegs

    Tegs Junior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2009
    Messages:
    120
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I will start by stating that I know absolutely nothing about dung beetles!

    But ... I once lived in northern western australia where it was bone dry 99% of the time and I noticed that a very healthy population of dung beetle took care of all the dog droppings in the portion of the yard that was irrigated but would not touch the droppings on the dry soil. Also after any rain the whole yard would be covered in the tell tale patches of disturbed soil where the beetles had worked their magic.

    I would be inclined to think that your situation is down to soil moisture levels but as I said I know NOTHING about dung beetles :)
     
  3. PeterFD

    PeterFD Junior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2009
    Messages:
    143
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Hi Tegs

    Thanks for the information.

    Earlier in the year I installed a swale and we seem to have had the wettest winter/spring in the history of the Universe.

    It would appear that your experience with dung-beetles matches mine. It was just so extraordinary to see them. It’s the first time within my entire life!!

    Thanks again.
     
  4. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2007
    Messages:
    2,721
    Likes Received:
    6
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    inland Otago, NZ
    Climate:
    Inland maritime/hot/dry/frosty
    I don't know anything about dung beetles either, but that is a very cool report. Interesting that they take them to the tree line!
     
  5. PeterFD

    PeterFD Junior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2009
    Messages:
    143
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Hi Pebble

    I have assumed that the dung-beetles live under the tree roots but I need to do some basic research. I also have some vague recollection that the dung-beetles grow fungus on the goat droppings which they use for food …… a bit like some of the PI reports where a Permi gets children to collect manure for a few pennies to fertilise a permiculture garden.

    If this were the case, one would assume that both the bacterial and fungi content of the forest soil would improve enormously. Perhaps the high humidity is needed to encourage the fungi to grow?

    Perhaps we should open the thread to anyone wanting to add some specific knowledge concerning the behaviour and consequences of dung-beetle activity.

    Come-on permi’s – hit the books and the internet. We may have uncovered a key piece in the Permaculture / Ecosystem scenario!!!

    Peter
     
  6. PeterFD

    PeterFD Junior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2009
    Messages:
    143
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Hi Permi’s

    I stand corrected on the idea that Dung-Beetles bury the dung to grow fungi “gardens”. Actually, current thinking concludes that they actually eat the dung directly and derive all their nutrient and water requirements directly via its ingestion.

    I found the following reference very interesting;

    >

    Any Australian permi’s want to follow-up the “Australian Dung Beetle Project” and report back?

    So, ……. move over worm farms, we need Dung-Beetle farms and lots of them.

    Anyone share the view that perhaps the advantages to Ecology and soil improvement offered by Dung-Beetles, may actually out-weigh worm farms; especially when a reduction in the number of parasites attacking live-stock is taken into account!

    Perhaps Dung-Beetles represent part of the complex relationships that exist between the soil and animals.

    Come on permi’s, get moving!!!!!

    Peter
     
  7. John123

    John123 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Return of the Dung-Beetle

    PeterFD,
    Yves Camberforte (Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle) or Alan Kirk (USDA/ARS Montpellier) maybe able to identify your beetles and advise you on how to conserve them. Your beetles' previous low numbers could be due to artificial macrolytic lactones fed to livestock to control gut parasites- the drenches pass through the livestock and into the dung and poison the beetles. I hope you can conserve your beetles now that they have made a comeback.

    Peter, you are not wrong. There are many species of dung beetles worldwide. And some have 'devolved' to eat more conventional food. The usual "burier" species will take whatever they can feed on, including fungi that are attached to their brood balls. They are limited by their mouthparts and loose the chewing maxillae that they had in their larval stages. Some have reverted to eating rotten fruit, rotten millipedes and a Spanish beetle can even manage acorns. But generally, dung beetles are obligate dung feeders.

    Usually, the adults- the beetles- feed on the juice of the dung pat. The larval stages feed on the drier fibrous material provided by the parent beetles. In the case of the Aphodiinids, the eggs are deposited directly in or near the food source.

    The beetles you saw, I guess, are a species of Sisyphus, a genus of "rollers" found in Europe, Asia and Africa. They carve up a cow pat into small balls and roll them away. The balls are buried, or tucked away in a grass tussock. An egg is laid in each ball. Your beetle sounds clever. It is using ready made balls. However, I have seen non-rollers, such as Copris hisapnus, gather up sheep pellets as well, to provision his larder.

    Copris hispanus and the Onitini and Onthophagini are "buriers". They make a shaft under or next to the pat and carry material down to the bottom of the shaft. These are either larders for the beetle's own use, or; are a food source for the beetles' larvae.

    Other genera of dung beetles are "dwellers" and remain in the cow pats. The adults of, for example, Aphodius fimentarius, will stay in a cow pat for some time and lay the eggs directly into the dung or just below the pat. Hatching larvae are left to fend for themselves. The adults will fly off in search of a new pat to colonise....
     
  8. John123

    John123 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Return of the Dung-Beetle 2

    ...
    Peter, north of the Pyrennes, the dwelling Aphodiinids, are more typical. I would expect you to find some coprid activity, even in cold weather, in Autumn and Spring. I guess your species remain dormant during snowy periods and freezing weather, perhaps as over-wintering eggs or larvae deep in the soil.

    I'm south of Perth, Western Australia and experience relatively mild winters. It is in the wet winter months that Aphodius fimentarius is most active and useful to farmers. More recently, they have had to share the cow pats with Bubas bison, an introduced winter-active onitine from Iberia and France. (Extends to Turkey and North Africa too.) I have been active in spreading B. bison (and other scarabs) around Australia.

    I cannot think of a permaculture application for dung beetles. The species (mostly "buriers" but also some "rollers") introduced to Australia are most suited to extensive cattle grazing and broadacre dairies. And these species are not suited to intensive farming such as on cattle feedlots. (I did however, collect large numbers of Onitis virdulus, beetles and larvae, from a muck heap in Biloela, Queensland around 18 years ago.)

    Protecting these beetles from such things as noxious drenches is compatible with Biodynamic Farming. Something that Permaculturists would be sympathetic with, Oui?

    Peter, the most important point I can make is that your beetles compliment the work of your earthworms and other soil fauna. The dung beetles are robust and generally deliver the dung into the root zone via substantial and vigorous tunneling, so the worms and company can do their work. However, the dung beetles can fly. This gives them an advantage over earth worms. It makes them highly dispersive, even under hot, dry conditions that would be hostile to more delicate invertebrates.

    All the best with your Family's farming ventures and take care of those scarabs :y:
    John Allen

    PS. Readers, please pass on "Hi" to my old schoolmate, David Holmgren, if anyone is in touch with him. We all know his historic role in Permaculture, Oui!
     
  9. John123

    John123 Junior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
  10. PeterFD

    PeterFD Junior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2009
    Messages:
    143
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Hi John123

    Wow ……… many thanks for all the information. It amazing to think there are people on my own doorstep that could help identify the beetles. However, since I live half-way up a mountain at 1,500 feet and don’t have any nearby neighbours …….

    Despite being an Ecologist for more years than I would necessarily care to admit to, and therefore always on the lookout for interesting activity, this is the first time in my entire life I’ve ever seen a Dung Beetle.

    Whilst sitting on the ground under the shade of a fairly hefty tree, my preferred method for keeping an eye on the goats, my attention was drawn to the amount of noise the beetles were making as they seemed to be putting enormous effort into pushing the goat pellets under the tree-line.

    Currently we’ve entered a very long hot period here in the South of France with afternoon temperatures reaching about 38C, sometimes higher. The slightly wonky swale I dug earlier in the year is cracked and dry and bares a greater resemblance to a concrete bunker.

    So, no sign of my little friends at the moment but I’m sure they’ll be back. When they arrive, I agree it would be a good idea to perhaps start some form of colony to increase their numbers and ensure their survival.

    Since taking over the goat farm in 2004 I’ve never drenched the animals because I always get an analysis first and no parasites have ever been found. It occurs to me that the existence of the dung beetles, and their immense capability to remove parasite ridden manure from the surface and push it underground where it can no do harm, may be the key reason I have a parasite free herd!

    Honestly, sometimes it’s a long journey but I suppose it’s the getting there that counts!! The fact that I failed to previously notice any doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

    I did quite a lot of research on the Australian experience of introducing dung beetles, and there use in America; and the immense fall in parasites noted, especially amongst cattle. However nobody suggested you could become parasite free … although I suppose that would be a very big claim to make.

    Animals such as cows, sheep, goats etc., that either live on or create prairies are often guilty of soil compaction and this tendency of the dung beetle to bury the soft moist organically rich dung under soil may be a means by which this effect is reduced.

    The animals eat the plants at one end, produce manure at the other, and the dung beetles shift the stuff underground to make sure diner is served, (which is one of the points you were making earlier).

    I noticed from your profile, hope you’ll forgive me for looking, that you’re a teacher and that you give “Dung beetle introductions”.

    At the moment there’s a drive, started by Marko, to try and pull permaculture together and move more mainstream where we can reach more people. Obviously its Marko’s call, however, it occurred to me if the forum could open-up some form of library of Permaculture datasheets on this type of information it may be one small step. Often threads can get overlong and move away from the core issue.

    If you’ll forgive the romanticising, I was thinking of some farmer with parasite ridden animals, done the chemical thing, or can’t afford it; types in “parasites” on the internet, up pops the PRI site with a reference to your datasheet. Low cost, ecologically friendly, after that it’s a link to your web-site and some direct help. AND, whilst he’s on here he may find a few other interesting things …. Permaculture?
     
  11. SueUSA

    SueUSA Junior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2009
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I'm late in the day on this thread, as usual!

    "Since taking over the goat farm in 2004 I’ve never drenched the animals because I always get an analysis first and no parasites have ever been found. It occurs to me that the existence of the dung beetles, and their immense capability to remove parasite ridden manure from the surface and push it underground where it can no do harm, may be the key reason I have a parasite free herd!"

    It is probably EXACTLY why you don't have parasites! The beetles tend to put the manure (and any parasite eggs) deeper than the distance the hatched larvae can travel to the surface, and they die. There used to be a lot more dung beetles, according to the experts, but since they live on dung, and farmers tend to overpopulate their pastures and routinely feed poisons, many have been killed off. Also, the beetles tend to be very specific what kinds of dung they like: cow dung, goat dung, dog dung, etc, and there doesn't seem to be much crossover in 'taste'. The other specific is climate.

    I just finished reading Charles Walter's book Dung Beetles and a Cowman's Profits (pub. AcresUSA), which was interesting and quite informative.
     
  12. PeterFD

    PeterFD Junior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2009
    Messages:
    143
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Hi Sue

    It’s always a pleasure to get an update on a posting.

    I followed the Australian experience of introducing Dung Beetles, and the possible onward development of Dung Beetle farming for profit. Certainly a novel idea from a European prospective.

    I noticed quite a lot of research on Dung Beetles and cows, however, since Goats tend to produce “ready roll size” droppings its not an area I pursued.

    I was, however, very interested in your comment concerning the adaptation of these beetles to a particular type of dung. I’m assuming that this is not species specific, or sub-species specific, but an environmental adaptation contained within the same species.

    During my final undergraduate year I completed a lot of research into lower order invertebrate adaptation to environmental change, which I put down to rudimentary memory which decayed over a 48 hour period unless continually reinforced. However, that, as they say, is quite another story!

    I don’t know if you noted the recent controversy between traditional Darwinian “evolutionary” theory and that of his predecessor, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Contrary to Darwinian theory concerning natural selection by random mutation, Lamarck proposed that species “willed” themselves to adapt to a new environment and that these willed adaptations were found in subsequent generations.

    Current research has noted environmental stress may activate certain adaptive genes within a species that only become evident within the next generation.

    Our current goat farm used to be a sheep farm for well over a hundred years. In 2000/2001, following a tragic fire that wiped-out the sheep, the farm was restarted with goats, which we reprieved in 2004.

    Species specific adaptation, in terms of the specific preference shown by Dung Beetles in your comment, is impossible to come by at the present moment. However, I cannot help but wonder if the sudden appearance of the Dung Beetle on our farm represents a “willed” adaptation, on the part of these beetles, to a change in environmental conditions?

    I have previously noted the great precision and authority you have shown in responded to, and initiated, various issues raised upon the forum. If you will forgive the impertinence, may I ask if you are a science graduate? My interest in posing the question is simply I had noticed the growing number of graduates attracted to permaculture – which can only be a good thing!

    Many thanks for your update, and I look forward to your continued input.


    Peter
     
  13. PeterFD

    PeterFD Junior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2009
    Messages:
    143
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Oops, sorry, I meant to say "information concerning species specific adaptation ....... is impossible to come by at the present moment".
     

Share This Page

-->