The Dung Beetle
Maybe you have visited a farm where there are cows and horses. The owner might have warned you to look carefully in the pasture or barnyard before you step, because there were lots of manure piles left by the animals. To most of us, manure is disgusting, and we certainly wouldn’t want the job of cleaning it up all the time. Did you know there is an amazing little creature God made specifically for that purpose? The dung beetle.
“Dung” is another word for manure or feces. Dung beetles love manure. They eat it, roll it into balls, live in it, lay their eggs in it, and couldn’t survive without it.
While this may seem gross to us, it makes perfect sense. God, in His amazing foresight and wisdom, knew that too much manure would be bad for the environment. Without dung beetles in the world, manure would pile up and cause all kinds of problems. What better way to clean things up than to have little beetles designed for the job?
The design of these beetles truly is amazing. There are about 7,000 species of dung beetle. One species, the horned dung beetle, is the strongest creature, pound-for-pound, in the world. It can pull over 1,100 times its own weight. That is like an adult human that weighs 150 pounds being able to pull 165,000 pounds. That would be the equivalent of pulling two fully loaded 18-wheeler trucks and their cargo. Only an intelligent designer could design a tiny beetle that eats manure to be the strongest creature in the world!
Dung beetles are usually divided into three categories: rollers, dwellers, and burrowers.
Rollers are probably the most famous and fun to watch. They have specially designed mouths that carve out chunks of manure. The beetles then use their special legs to form the chunks into balls that they roll away from the manure pile. In an area where there are many dung beetles, a large pile of manure can be completely removed in only a few minutes.
Once the ball is on the move, the dung beetle rolls it to a good spot in the ground to bury it. You may wonder why it buries the dung ball. Some bury the dung ball as a way to store food. Since dung is their food source, and some animals that produce the manure migrate and are not around all the time, storing food for later is a good idea. Second, some beetles use dung balls as a place to start a family.
The female lays eggs inside the dung ball that is buried. The eggs hatch and the larvae come out of the eggs and eat the dung. This supplies the baby dung beetles with all the food they need to begin their new lives.
Rollers have to watch out, however, because other dung beetles love to steal dung balls that they didn’t roll. If you watch rollers work for very long, you most likely will see a fight over a well-rolled dung ball. In the past, researchers thought that the beetles were helping each other get the ball over obstacles, but it turned out the burglar beetles were trying to steal it.
Dwellers are another type of dung beetle. They find a pile of manure in a pasture or field and use it as their home. They nest in it, eat it, and start their family inside their cozy cow pile!
Burrowers are a third type of dung beetle. They find places where dung is available and dig a burrow near it. They then roll dung into small balls and carry the dung back to their burrows.
Researchers have discovered that a dung beetle can bury up to 250 times its own weight of dung in one night. That would be like a 150 pound human burying 37,500 pounds in one night. Talk about hardworking beetles!
Another amazing capability God gave the dung beetle is a remarkable ability to navigate and get where it needs to go. Current research suggests that certain species of dung beetles use the stars to get to their burrows and the dung that they have buried. This ability is remarkable, considering that humans have been using the stars to navigate for thousands of years. By locating the North Star in the sky, humans can know exactly how to go due north. Sailors in the past often used star maps to get a bearing on their locations and which way they needed to go.
The dung beetle, however, has a built in “star map” that God gave it so it would not get lost. The idea that the dung beetle could have evolved the ability to navigate using the stars does not make sense. Only the existence of an intelligent Designer can explain this ability.
Another interesting fact about dung beetles is that they are very helpful to the environment and to people. First, because of their work burying dung, they add many helpful nutrients to the soil that allow plants and vegetation to grow. Second, the holes that they dig help to aerate the soil. Have you ever seen dirt that is very dense and packed together tightly?
This kind of ground does not allow water to go through it easily or nutrients to get into it. In fact, landscaping companies have machines that they pull behind mowers and tractors that punch thousands of holes into the ground to help it loosen up and have room for water to drain through. God, however, doesn’t use a big metal machine to aerate land. He designed millions of dung beetles to dig the holes for Him. In addition, when dung beetles bury manure, they keep flies and other creatures that carry diseases from laying eggs in it. Some studies suggest that dung beetles in certain areas can eliminate 90-95% of the harmful disease-carrying flies that reproduce in manure. Due to the beetles’ help with manure, another study says that every year dung beetles save farmers in the United States 380 million dollars. Now that is some expensive waste removal!
Who knew that the world needed dung beetles? God did. He designed these marvelous manure movers to be some of the strongest, best navigating, most beneficial creatures on the planet. In Psalm 148:10 we learn that “creeping things” praise the Lord. The next time you see a pile of manure, just think about how, underneath that dung, there might be a family of beetles that reflects the intelligence and glory of our almighty Creator.
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