Aphodius sp. typical dung beetle
On the right is Aphodius sp. showing the typical dung beetle shape - the strong, digging legs, shovel-like head and lamellate antennae.
What dung beetles do for us
Dung beetles perform a very necessary service to us humans with our ever increasing consumption of meat. For example, in the U. S. there is almost 1 cow for every 3 people. Each cow produces about 9 tonnes of dung a year! And how do we get rid of this dung? Well for cows reared outside we do nothing at all. The dung beetles and other invertebrates perform that service for us for free.
In Australia there are no native dung beetles, and after the introduction of cattle in the 19th century there was a massive fly population explosion because of all the piles of dung lying around for months on end. So they introduced a South African dung beetle. This greatly reduced fly numbers, which pleased both cattle and humans.
The ancient Egyptians associated the dung ball rolling behaviour of the adult beetles with their sun god, Ra, or Khepera, whom they believed rolled the sun across the sky, consequently dung beetles were venerated in their culture. Dung beetles were also associated with Atum, the creator god. As the adult beetles would emerge from the buried balls of dung, the ancient Egyptians believed that by burying human dead, the humans would rise again too. Even today the image of the adult scarab beetle in jewellery is supposed to bring good luck to the buyer and wearer.