How Nature’s ‘Pooper Scoopers’
Save Farmers Money
Zylem: Soil Health, Plant Health for
Web Address: www.zylemsa.co.za
Reprinted From: www.zylemsa.co.za/dung-beetles
Sustainable farming measures recognise
the beneficial role played by
insects, and dung beetles are one
of the most helpful critters out there.
Dung beetles have their name for a
reason: the many species of dung beetles
found worldwide spend their days
breaking up, burying and rolling dung,
which helps to put essential nutrients
back into the soil, fosters plant growth
and prevents a pasture from turning
into a ‘cowpat-ure’.
Types of dung beetles
As a sub-grouping (Scarabaeinae), dung
beetles are part of the Scarabaeidae
family. There are more than 5,000 species
of dung beetles worldwide.
They are found on every continent but
for Antarctica and will thrive in all climates
(except where there is extreme
Dung beetles can be broken down into
four distinct groups:
• Telecoprid – roll the famous balls of
dung and bury them in soft soil
• Endocoprid – lay their eggs in a pile
• Paracoprid – dig down below a pile
• Kleptocoprid – steal the balls from
Why are dung beetles important to
During the summer season, dung beetles
clean up the majority of animal
dung in the wild. If it weren’t for dung
beetles, animal dung would simply keep
piling up. You can call them the ‘cleanup
crew’ or the ‘Pooper Scoopers’!
In agriculture, dung beetles provide
the same service by breaking down and
burying cow dung. This not only fertilises
the soil (thus providing better grass
for grazing) but also saves the livestock
industry millions of rands a year by improving
animal health. In fact, according
to a study conducted by the American
Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS)
in 2006, dung beetles save the US livestock
industry a staggering US$380 million
Here’s how dung beetles save livestock
Dung beetles are important to the
health of the soil and the farmer’s bottom
line, and having dung beetles in
pastures is a sign of a healthy and productive
land base. The main benefits to
the farmer include:
A cow can produce up to 12 cowpats a
day. If left exposed on the ground, this
faecal matter provides an ideal breeding
ground for dangerous flies and
parasites. In only two weeks, up to 3000
flies can breed on a single cowpat.
Dung beetles are dung burying ‘machines’,
able to bury 250 times their
own weight in dung per day. By burying
dung, dung beetles prevent the growth
of potentially harmful flies and parasites.
They move flies’ eggs and brooding
sites below the soil, thus breaking the
life cycle of the flies.
Along with burying piles of poop, dung
beetles that create dung balls (Telecoprids)
excrete a chemical on the ball
that will repel flies from trying to lay
their eggs. Other varieties of dung beetle
larvae will prey on the larvae of flies.
Improved pasture fertility
Dung beetles search for the most nutritious
manure in the pile (this is what they
ball up and roll away or bury directly under
the cowpat). What’s left behind are
the smaller, high-fibre pieces. The portions
of dung that dung beetles seek
are the highest in nitrogen; by burying
these bits, the beetles move this matter
to the rhizosphere in the soil.
This means less nitrogen leaching back
into the atmosphere, and more nitrogen
for plant growth.
Water management and soil aeration
In the face of climate change, flood and
drought cycles are affecting farmers
around the world. They need sustainable,
effective solutions to mitigate these
Dung beetles continuously tunnel holes
into the rhizosphere, aerating the soil
and increasing the rate at which water
can infiltrate the soil. In addition, by
mixing with residual manure leftover
from the dung beetle larvae, water will
lock into the rhizosphere like a sponge,
giving plants perfect access to water
right where they need it most.
By promoting a healthier water cycle,
dung beetles help healthier plants to
grow, encouraging more photosynthesis
and more feed for livestock.
The bottom line
With diseases carried by flies costing
farmers millions per year, introducing
dung beetles is a sustainable way to
drastically reduce fly populations and
associated parasites and diseases.
Add their ability to increase fertility in
pastures and allow for more effective
water cycling, and dung beetles can
make a significant impact on farm financials.
All you need to do is create the
conditions for dung beetles to thrive.
Grassroots Vol 20 No 3 September 2020