Dung beetles are beneficial insects that use feces for food. There are more than 8,000 species and they are on every continent except Antarctica.
The beetle I spotted was a "roller". There are two other types: "tunnelers" and "dwellers".
"Rollers" move the manure ball to a location where the ground is soft enough to dig a hole. The beetle then buries the ball. It is stored to use later as food or it is used as a brood ball. A brood ball feeds the young (larvae) when they hatch. Rollers can move a manure ball 50 times their own weight.
"Tunnelers" bury the manure where they find it. This tends to be impossible in the Hill Country of south Texas. If the manure is on a bed of rock the manure has to be moved to an area soft enough to dig. My little friend moved his ball nearly 30 feet before finding ground to his liking.
"Dwellers" are lazy. They just move right in. The females lay eggs on top of the manure pile. Dwellers seem to prefer cow patties.
An area may be home to more than one species of dung beetle if the climate, terrain and food source is suitable.
Dung beetles use their sense of smell to locate manure piles and fly to the location. Some small species ride the animal and when the opportunity presents itself, land on the fresh pile.
Dung beetles are beneficial insects because they remove manure, improve the soil and help control flies.
Dung beetles in Texas utilize 80 percent of cattle droppings in some areas.
One study showed a horse manure pile disappearing within 24 hours. The only thing left was some fluffy unwanted plant material.
The beetles improve soil by loosening the dirt, increasing aeration and providing access holes for water infiltration. Scattering the manure increases organic material in the ground and increases water retention.
By burying or scattering manure piles, dung beetles decrease fly populations.
When cattle were introduced to Australia, bush fly numbers increased. Native dung beetles refused to utilize the cattle feces. In 1967 a plan to import dung beetles from Africa and Europe was implemented. The project continues and is very successful.
If you want to maintain a healthy dung beetle population, plan ahead when you use de-wormers containing ivermectin. Ivermectin is toxic to dung beetle eggs and larvae. Try to use these de-wormers after a hard killing frost (when you should de-worm for bots anyway) and in the spring before warm weather sets in. If you use an ivermectin product in the summer try to avoid using it right after rain, as dung beetles seem to be more active then. The chemical is only present in the manure for a few days. Other de-worming products don't seem to be as toxic, so schedule your rotational chart accordingly.
Unfortunately the dung beetle won't replace the manure fork, but it's nice to know you have an ally in manure management!
* For information about how to care for horses take the online course "Stable Management" and "Nutrition For Maximum Performance" taught by Eleanor Blazer. Earn certification or work toward a Bachelor of Science degree in equine studies.
Dung Beetles and Manure Management
By Eleanor Blazer
Merrily we roll along, roll along…
I was sitting at the horse trailer waiting for my next class when I noticed a manure ball rolling along through the grass.
"What the heck?"
I got up for a closer look and discovered a black beetle standing on its head, pushing the manure ball with his hind legs. I had heard of dung beetles while living in Ohio, but never saw one until I moved to south Texas.