Episode 163 – Dung Beetle: The Bowel Bowler

“…and today we’re talking about a poo poo paladin that rolls with the punches and makes the most out of a smelly situation. But more on that later.” 

One animal’s waste is another animal’s treasure. The dung beetle was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians for its apparent fecal-oriented immortality, but modern discoveries have found new reasons to marvel at this little insect. For those that believe in reincarnation, here is one animal that probably won’t make their top ten list. But sometimes you just need to roll up your sleeves, and some dung, to survive here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • Dung beetles are round beetles with black and brown bodies.
  • Their bodies are separated into three distinct sections.
    • They have horseshoe shaped heads that often have spurs or horn-like protrusions. 
    • Beetle thoraxes are covered by a piece of plate armor called a pronotum.
    • They have wings that are covered by more armor called elytron.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. 

  1. Horned Passalus Beetle
  2. Giant Elephant Beetle
  3. Hercules Beetles
  4. Rhinoceros Beetle


  • 5 to 30 mm (0.2 to about 1.2 inches)
  • How many dung beetles go into the length of the biggest nile crocodile ever?
  • Hint: To hear more on nile crocs, check out our episode on them. The largest nile croc ever is the infamous maneater Gustave, from Burundi. He’s rumored to have killed hundreds of people. He is thought to have been killed in 2019.
  • 200 beetles. Gustave is an estimated 20 feet long and may be as old as 60 years.


  • Scarab species can weigh between 100 micrograms to 3.5 ounces (99 grams), with the largest being the hercules beetle. 
  • Egyptian scarab beetles may weigh around 0.07 oz (2 grams).
  • How many dung beetles would a burrowing owl have to eat to eat it’s weight in dung beetles?
  • Hint: Burrowing owls in Peru have been observed setting traps with defecation in order to attract dung beetles.
  • Answer: 85 beetles. Burrowing owls are around 6 ounces (170 grams). 

Fast Facts

Dung beetles are scarab beetles that were revered in ancient egypt.

The dung beetle lives up to its name, exclusively eating the fecal matter of other animals. One animal’s waste is another’s treasured truffles. They locate these butt-fets with their acute sense of smell.

Some smaller species will get their feces from fecal factories directly. They’ll find a reliable friend like a cow and hitch a ride until the cow drops fresh baked goods.

Then when the beetles find a choice morsel, they’ll roll it into a ball so they can have a meal on wheels.

When it’s time to court, females will select a male based on the size of his craposel. When the pair comes together, the female will hitch a ride on the chocolate snowball and the male will push the poo with his back legs while his head faces the ground. 

Dung beetles live in several different environments, including desert, grasslands, farmland, and forests — all places where one might find ejected poo. 

There are both old and new world dung beetles, and these manure loving bugs can be found on every continent except antarctica. However, they prefer temperate weather and avoid hot and cold extremes.

These bowel movement movers actually serve an important ecological purpose. They move, eat, and sometimes bury manure, which is important in both agriculture and forests. 

Poo helps enrich soil, which is something farmers and gardeners know all too well after a smelly trip to the Home Depot. 

Poo-eaters also help recycle nutrients. Just be glad you don’t have to be one.

Major Fact: Polarizing Poo

So when a hapless gazelle leaves a fresh pile of dinner on the savannah, there’s a tiny but intense race to claim some of the prize. Dozens of beetles will be teeming over the spoils, so getting the dropping on the competition is vital.

Many insects, including most dung beetles, use polarized light to orient themselves and find their way back to their dens.

Most light travels in a beam and the light coming from that beam vibrates in all directions so that anyone can see it from any angle. However, certain things can cause the light to be polarized, meaning that only one angle can be seen. This can happen if the light interacts with a surface or with particles in the atmosphere.

While other insects and other dung beetles tend to navigate using polarized light from the sun (meaning they can tell the difference between different angles of light), The Great Zamboni can use moonlight, which is one millionth the strength of sunlight.

Researchers confirmed this when they angled polarized moonlight at a beetle. The beetle would change directions depending on where the beam was angled.

This is due to an extremely sensitive ring around the beetle’s eye that can detect the incredibly weak polarized moonlight and follow it in a straight line.

This allows it to get the jump on the competition and forage during twilight and nighttime since the others are unable to navigate without sunlight. So if an animal does its BM in the PM, this particular species of beetle will be able to get in on the IPO before it hits the market when trading starts the next day. 

The Great Zamboni is the only animal we know of that can do this, but researchers suspect that other animals (particularly insects) can but we just haven’t learned about it yet.

A Wired article even mentioned a study where the beetles could still navigate on moonless nights. They then put tiny blindfolds on the beetles and only then did they have trouble finding their way. The article suggested that they use polarized light from stars in the Milky Way

Also, the ancient Egyptians would see an adult dung beetle bury a ball of dung in the ground and re-emerge as a juvenile. So they thought that the scarab was immortal and representative of the infinite cycles of the sun. The reality is that the female scarab would lay her eggs in the ball and tunnel away


So move quickly, get a leg up on the competition, and guide your poop by the silvery light of the waxing moon like the dung beetle here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.