Kiba Point

The Dung Wars

20 October 2011

We had a lot of rain in the Selous last week which brought out lots of insects including Dung Beetles. With so many of these insects plundering dung piles, the competition was fierce for the choicest morsels.

Dung beetles are very important to the ecosystem, not least because they operate as the bush's sanitation system. To learn more about these insects, check out this fantastic post from Safari Ecology. What caught my attention while watching them was how ferociously they fought to defend their dungballs. Capable of pushing relative boulders ten times their own size, the beetles' strength was never in doubt. Their tactics, however, were fascinating to witness. As a reference, this particular species of beetle is about 2cm long.

This dung beetle is showing excellent rolling technique. They always roll the dung balls with their hind legs while standing on their front legs.

In the cases of competition over the dung, however, what unfolded was a bit more dramatic.

In this sequence, the beetle on the ball uses his American football-style blocking skills to keep the other beetle from ascending the dungball.

The beetle on the ball had spent considerable time moulding giraffe pellets and he wasn't about to let this challenger steal the fruits of his labor.

The challenger sprinted all the way around the ball but the defender never let him get to close.

Eventually, the challenger realized he was just going to have to do it the hard way and he sauntered off to the dung pile to start moulding his own dungball.

In the next sequence, two beetles of the same sex have already climbed onto the top of the dungball. Playing a game of king-of-the-hill, it was only a question of who would be the last beetle standing.

After a brief scrap on the top of the ball, one of the contenders was sent sprawling.

The victor decided to press his advantage and chase the other one off.

In this last sequence, what started as a similarly mild hilltop scuffle quickly took on much higher stakes.

The victor sent his opponent somersaulting 10 body lengths into the air. When he landed, the loser came straight back and got tossed again. This picture depicts the third launching. Who knows, maybe I have it all wrong and they're just performing the beetle equivalent of cliff jumping.

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