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[video width="448" height="246" mp4="https://buffelsdrift.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/A-Dung-beetle-hard-at-work.mp4"][/video]When you picture South Africa, what comes to mind? While many of us jump straight to iconic animals like the elephant or cheetah, it pays to look down, too! If you enjoy one of Buffelsdrift Game Lodge’s famous Heritage Walks, there’s one tiny beast you’re sure to meet- the Karoo Dung Beetle. Despite their small size, these industrious insects are a cornerstone of the African landscape- and a fascinating one, too!
When you hear the term ‘scarab beetle’, most of our imaginations jump straight to Egypt and its ancient royalty. Did you know that the Karoo Dung Beetle is a scarab, too? In fact, it’s widely thought that their ability to roll up and move their iconic balls so industriously over great distances is why the Ancient Egyptians tied these beetles to the movement of the sun in the heavens.The utterly unique Karoo biome, rich in the fynbos found only in the Cape area globally, makes for the perfect home for these fascinating insects. And the wider ecosystem would be lost without them. While moving dung may not seem the most glamorous of professions, through their activities they help pollinate the plants of the area, as well as cycle nutrients through the soil and improve its quality- a critical activity in this ancient semi-desert area, where fertile topsoil is at a premium. They also help reduce pests, flies, and parasites that can harm wildlife and livestock alike.
However, they’re also surprisingly skilled indicators of ecological change through the region. Did you know that dung beetles are incredibly sensitive to rainfall patterns, and will even change their natural behaviours depending on the land use around them? The Karoo and rain have a strange relationship. In the east we get summer rainfall, while the western areas get the Cape’s winter rainfall instead. While the larger beetles dominate popular imagination, some dung beetle species in the area are tiny, going down to only 2 mm in length! Nor does every beetle roll its treasured dung ball- some will tunnel down into the dirt to hide their prize, while others will simply move into a convenient dung heap and call it home. When dry seasons hit, they stay dormant in the soil, waiting for some refreshing rain to rejuvenate them.They may be little, but these critical insects are surprisingly good indicators of the health and wellness of the wider ecosystem around them, especially in an arid landscape like the Karoo. So the next time you’re enjoying a stay at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, remember to keep your eyes down on the ground too. You may just spot one of these unique scarab beetles dutifully busy with their tasks, helping to support the unique bushveld around them!