Today I am the dung beetle.
This past week a student was chuckling over an article she was given in a class. It had pictures of animals and descriptions of their behavior to illustrate different ways people behave in groups. Donkeys are people who stubbornly insist that they are right no matter what others in the group say. Elephants are people who block the movement of the group. Monkeys are people who get the group off track through goofiness and humor. Ostriches don’t like conflict and stick their heads in the sand to avoid it. Rabbits flee at the first sign of tension. That sort of thing.
All of the descriptions were negative. None of the descriptions included any way the animals/people benefit the group.
But the student was very good at thinking of positive aspects, or how there could be times when the behavior would be beneficial. For instance, being stubborn about the truth is good (Donkeys). Blocking harm to someone in the group who is vulnerable (Elephants) is important. Getting yourself out of a bad or harmful situation in the group if you can’t stop or change what’s going on is important (Rabbits).
When I read the question, What Animal are You? what came immediately to mind is: I am the Dung Beetle.
Stick with me here. This is not a complaint. It’s appreciating another of my Small But Mighty Five. Because Dung Beetles are amazing.
It’s not just that dung beetles spend the day dealing with the waste product of other forces on the planet much bigger than themselves. (Although if and when that metaphor works for you, have at it.) But there’s more.
It’s also the elegance of the fact that that’s what they do and that by doing what they do, there’s huge benefit beyond themselves.
Keep Your Feet on the Ground but Keep Reaching for the Stars.
Addo Elephant National Park is about 90 minutes away from Makhanda/Grahamstown, and here, we’ve gotten to see the Flightless Dung Beetle at work.
Flightless Dung Beetles rolls balls of elephant dung and use them for nutrition and as a place to lay their eggs. Their use of elephant dung also helps to improve soil, plant growth, and preventing pests. How wonderful that such a small creature has such an important interaction with such a large creature.
Dung beetles can push balls of dung up to 50 times their weight, and for efficiency (and to keep their work from being stolen by others), they roll their prizes in straight lines. How do they move in straight lines, even at night?
Scientists in South Africa figured out that they navigate using the Milky Way. Dung beetles set their sights even beyond elephant heights!
How did scientists test their results? By putting tiny little hats on the dung beetles that blocked their ability to see the stars. No more straight lines. (Read the whole fascinating story here. Then come back for one more fun thing.)
Dung beetles are very practical. In addition to being unembarrassed recyclers, their use of dung gives them a way to keep their feet cool in hot climates. This is the conclusion reached by another scientific study in which people dressed up dung beetles, this time putting tiny silicone booties on them. Why? (Other than because tiny silicone booties on beetles?)
Dung beetles sometimes hang out, perched on top of their dung balls. Are they protecting them? Resting? No–they are keeping their feet cool. Scientists discovered that dung beetles sporting spiffy silicone booties (think tiny little oven mitts for their tiny little feet) didn’t hang out on top of their dung balls as often as unshod beetles. Read more here .
Strong, resourceful, helpful, in tune with the stars, (not to mention, sharp-dressers)–here’s to another of the small but mighty creatures that inhabit this fascinating planet!
Featured image from Somethingovertea.com.