In praise of dung beetles

dungbeetle.jpgYes, I’ve previously sung the praises of maggots. And lightning bugs. And I stand by that.

But there are legions of others of our humble brethren (is there a parallel politically correct, gender-neutral word? sistren? Never mind) out toiling in the world at the less savory but nevertheless critical professions that make the world turn (figuratively speaking) and make life better for you and me. By, for example, cleaning up you-know-what.

A brief piece in Newsweek, of all places, has recognized this neglected proletariat of our terrestrial ecosystems. And there are other, similar creatures that clean up lakes and oceans. And I quote:

“Of all creatures great and small, it is the charismatic megafauna—tigers and rhinos and gorillas and pandas and other soulful-eyed, warm and fuzzy animals—that personify endangered species. That’s both a shame and a dangerous bias. “Plants and invertebrates are the silent majority which feed the entire planet, stabilize the soil and make all life possible,” says Kiernan Suckling, cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. They pollinate crops and decompose carcasses, filter water and, lacking weapons like teeth and claws, brew up molecules to defend themselves that turn out to be remarkably potent medicines: the breast-cancer compound taxol comes from a yew tree, and a leukemia drug from the rosy periwinkle. Those are tricks that, Suckling dryly notes, “polar bears and blue whales haven’t mastered yet.””

carrion_beetles.jpgAnd here’s my favorite bit:

“If Earth’s species are a living library, then polar bears and other cuddly mammals are the best-selling beach reads. Everything else is the volumes of history and literature and other scholarship, written in the alphabet of DNA: 99 percent of all animals are invertebrates. To understand the history and the majesty of life requires reading, and thus preserving, those volumes.”

Well said. Hail the the other 95% of the animal kingdom.

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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3 Responses to In praise of dung beetles

  1. Don says:

    Love the Necrophila shot. An important beast!

  2. Emmett Duffy says:

    Yes, I can well remember my fascination as a kid at seeing a similar picture, probably in one of the Golden Nature Guides — that combination of repellant and irresistible, like passing a bad traffic accident.

  3. Anton says:

    Indeed only the old egyptian culture did acknowledge the value of these small dung beetles. Known as the marvellous “scarabeus”, this is the only place where it became a majour part in culture.