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Dung Beetles
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black dung beetle

Science teacher John N. Clayton told a story about an incident which happened when his children were young and he took them to watch a National Audubon Society presentation on the wildlife of Africa. He wrote:

“The beautiful film footage of great animals and birds had entranced me as I think it does anyone who has grown to appreciate God’s creative wisdom. As a herd of huge elephants ambled across the screen one of them stopped and deposited a huge mass of dung on the ground. My youngest daughter leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘Who cleans up the mess?’”

This simple question from a child has a very complicated answer. It really is a very important question for the sake or our planet. A group of four elephants can produce a metric ton of manure in a day. However, the African plains are not covered with elephant dung. Where does it go?

Part of the credit for cleaning up the mess can be given to the dung beetle. This insect has to be one of the world’s smallest and most efficient janitors. Consider what the dung beetle does with the tons of waste that would otherwise produce monstrous numbers of flies, spread parasites, choke out plants, and make an African safari a most nauseating way to spend a vacation. It would also make raising farm animals much more difficult.

When an elephant deposits a pile of dung, the odor of the material attracts the beetles. Within 15 minutes after being deposited over 3,800 beetles were observed on a sample studied by scientists. Within 30 minutes this 75-pound pile was gone. The beetles rolled the dung up into balls of various sizes and buried the balls in the ground. Each ball had an egg placed in it. When the beetle larva hatches from the egg it has all of the food and water it will need until it is able to function on its own.

There are many different species of dung beetles. Some bury the balls as far as three feet under ground while others bury it only deep enough that it is not visible. Some bury it on the spot while others roll the ball to a distant location as far as 50 yards away. The ones which move it to anther place to burry it are referred to as “rollers” because they roll the ball, using their hind legs. (Is that so they can keep their nose away from the ball? Probably not.) They are also called “tumblebugs” for the way they tumble the ball, which is usually larger then they are. The ones which burry it on the spot are referred to as “tunnellers.” When they lay eggs in the ball it is referred to as a brooding ball. Then there are some dung beetles called “dwellers” who just live in the dung pile and consume it.

This may seem very disgusting to us, but just think of all the benefits this carefully designed system provides. It cleans up the ground. It fertilizes the soil at various depths. It puts moisture into the soil which otherwise would evaporate. It aerates the soil by making holes in it. It provides food for life-forms that live below the soil as well as for birds who eat many of the beetles above the soil. According to the American Institute of Biological Sciences, dung beetles save the American cattle industry $380 million a year by removing livestock waste. Would you want this job?

The Designer has not left out any detail in creating a self-sustaining world. To suggest that these beetles came about by pure chance because there was a ready food source, is not plausible. How long would it take a herd of elephants to totally cover the ground around a waterhole with waste? Could dung beetles evolve in that amount of time, even if they came from other beetles? Chance does not explain this system. Disgusting as it may be, it really is a Dandy Design.

“dung beetle,” Wikipedia




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