I admire and rather enjoy dung beetles when I am in Africa. They are amazing creatures with a great sense of smell which they use to find the freshest of poo dropped from their favorite herbivore. A dung beetle can roll up to ten times their weight in poo. They do this either for food storage or for making a brooding ball. If it is for a brooding ball you will see two beetles together often one is clinging to the ball catching a sometime bumpy ride to a soft spot in the soil where they will mate; the female will lay her eggs inside the ball, then they bury it. The larvae lives in and eats from that brood ball until ready to emerge.
That’s all well and good for this scarab. For us humans this beetle can provide lots of entertainment and many great photos opportunities. They can also scare the living shit out of you.
In Kruger National Park I have spent long periods of time watching these creatures through open car windows. Most piles of fresh elephant poo in the roads are infested with dung beetles each fighting for prime poo position. I have seen one steal another’s rolled poo ball - too lazy to roll his own I guess. I’ve watched other beetles work feverishly in and around the poo with no visible result - amateurs I guess - just running around trying to figure it out.
One day around Shingwedzi Camp, I came across a fresh pile of elephant dung; the beetles having just landed on it. None of them nor I anticipated what was about to happen. A monitor lizard approached the scene. He came scampering up and started feasting on the bugs; one at a time until there were none left. It was certainly a great photo opportunity for me but not a good day for those beetles.
At times though the admiration for these bugs turns to sheer fright. One day I was in my car sitting roadside watching three male lion. As I sat with my car windows open, camera at hand clicking away, three large male lion only an arm’s length away my heart was already pounding; any slight fright could have sent me into cardiac arrest. I clicked the camera when one lion yawned. At about the same moment a dung beetle flew into my car through the open window and started buzzing a sound so loud I thought an entire swarm of cicadas was in my car. The beetle bounced from window to window, in my lap and out of my lap; occasionally bombing my head. After what seemed like ten minutes of flailing – the beetle and me – the beetle came to a rest in the car and went quiet, but I didn’t know where. It’s not like I could jump out of the car and search. There were three lion laying just there in the grass now staring at me through the open car window wondering – I am sure – what the hell all the fuss was about. I found the culprit behind my seat resting and covered him with a coffee cup then bravely gathered the intruder into it and evicted him from my car.
Dung beetles are a most photographed creature, bigger and louder than I ever imagined before my close encounter. They are entertaining to watch as they roll and push their dung balls around the road. But when you least expect it they can become the scariest animal of all in the African bush!