We were fortunate enough to spend last weekend on the farm Vendetta about 150 kms south east of Windhoek. This was our fourth visit to this amazing farm and as usual game and farm animals were there in abundance. Wherever you get animals and dung, you are sure to see industrious dung beetles nearby. We came across some magnificent specimens and were interested to watch them rolling and burying the dung balls that they had gathered.
These little beetles are capable of incredible feats of strength, as they can roll dung balls weighing up to fifty times their body weight. The one in these pictures was working really hard to push this enormous dung roll across the road. We spent several minutes watching him and admiring his tenacity as he was not put off by any obstacles in the way of the straight line that he was following.
Another one had already made a deep hole and was extremely busy collecting little dung pellets to fill it with. The dung, when stored, is used for feeding on or as a brooding chamber. Once the dung balls are in place, the beetles mate and the female lays her eggs in them.
These insects serve a useful purpose in nature because removing the dung reduces the number of flies and other disease carrying pests and improves the nutrient value of the soil. This contribution has been recognized in agriculture and dung beetles have been introduced into many areas for this reason.
Because they belong to the superfamily Scarabaeoidea and the sub-family Scarabaeinae, dung beetles are also known as Scarab beetles. The Scarab beetles found in Egypt in ancient times were revered and treated as sacred in their culture. They’re often depicted in hieroglyphics, on seals and immortalized by statues in Egypt. The Egpytians likened Scarab beetles to Khepri, the god of the rising sun, who they said rolled the sun over the horizon in the morning and rolled it away at night. They therefore symbolized rebirth and renewal to them. Amulets of Scarab beetles were also placed on the hearts of deceased people in order to assist them into the afterlife when they were judged for their deeds on earth. You can read more about the Egyptian weighing of the heart ceremony here.
So next time you see a dung beetle, please give it the respect it deserves. I think they symbolize our lot in life as well – aren’t most people shovelling dung most of their lives at work (my polite way of putting it). No wonder we deserve a break and some relief in the hereafter. I must remember to get myself a Scarab amulet.