Dung beetles don’t just bring ecological balance and economic advantage; they demonstrate some of the most remarkable behaviors in the insect kingdom, including mating and nesting instincts usually only seen in birds and mammals. Consider the dung-roller scarabs, revered by the Ancient Egyptians and the subjects of many a film documentary.

Their claim to fame is their mad scramble to get enough of a dropping after it has dropped. There are verified accounts of 4,000 dung beetles arriving at a pint-sized sample of elephant dung within 15 minutes, and 16,000 beetles spiriting away three pounds of the dung in under two hours.

Having sculpted out a tennis ball-sized morsel of dung, a pair of rollers—male and female—work together to get it away from the competition as quickly as possible. They set off in a dead straight line, using the sun’s light to navigate. If they meet an obstacle or barrier they may deviate briefly, but once the way ahead is clear, they resume their original heading.

In some species of dung beetles can bury dung 250 times heavier than themselves in one night. Many dung beetles, known as rollers, roll dung into round balls, which are used as a food source or breeding chambers.

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