Soils ain’t Soils -The humble Dung Beetle!

 

 

I was watching a very informative video last weekend, posted online, by a company called- Soils for life, which specialises in regenerative landscape management practices in Australia. The educational video was a talk by John Feehan, who is a leading dung beetle expert in Australia. https://www.soilsforlife.org.au/videos/john-feehan-dung-beetles, I became fascinated in the role these simple little dung beetles play in sequestering carbon and aerating the soil as they feed on the excrement of cow dung. John Feehan, who also has his own company called - Soil Cam, with his unique web address: www.dungbeetleexpert.com.au, which is pretty much self-explanatory as the title of his webpage states, he is a leading expert in this field. John Feehan is an entomologist and he was a member of the CSIRO team tasked with introducing bovine dung beetles into Australia, before starting his own company that supplies and redistributes dung beetles worldwide (as our local dung beetles feeding on marsupial droppings were not that efficient on bovine dung in Australia).

                        The dung beetle, the mating game begins!

 John mentions during the video, that the adult dung beetle can smell fresh dung downwind, from approximately one kilometre away. The beetles fly to the cow paddies, feed for a couple of hours on the left-over protein contained in the dung, then mate and tunnel into the soil profile with neat rolls of manure (depending on the species) which they use as incubating chambers for their young, then the larvae hatch and feed on the dung balls, mature, crawl out as beetles and then fly off to the next cow dung, starting the process all over again. John Feehan goes on to mention that there are approximately 28 million cattle, that can drop up to a half a million tonnes of dung per day, every day in Australia, with each animal dropping up to 12 cow pads a day. For every litre of dung, the beetles scavenge from the soil surface, they also redistribute approximately two kilograms of subsoil back to the surface in its place, ensuring the soil is aerated naturally which also increases the microbial life in time also. John goes on to say in the video, that each location in the country may have different species of dung beetles that breed at different times of the year, but his company can supply the right species of dung beetles that perform the best for local climatic conditions.

 It amazes me, when I think of how efficient nature is in recycling organic waste and how important the humble Dung beetle is in aerating the soil and creating microbial activity that might otherwise be a barren land or life less soil. The truly remarkable thing is, how the Dung beetles can turn cow dung into the soil profile within 24 to 72 hours, out competing our bush flies as they will need more time to breed. John even goes as far to say in another video on his website, that in Canberra, 25 years ago and due to hygiene laws, it was illegal for local restaurants to serve food outdoors, due to so many bush flies that would swarm any plate of food served (up to 500 flies per table). Wow, how things have greatly changed, due to the successful importation of suitable dung beetles means less pressure from bush flies around the agricultural and pastural regions of Australia. And having a meal outdoors, in restaurants in these areas is now considered, standard practice. Not to mention these dung beetles can reduce the loss of CO2 to the atmosphere and recycle the phosphorous contained in animal dung directly into the soil as they bury the fresh, wet and odorous manure, back into the earth. Well then, I am all done on the dung beetles this issue, but you do have to appreciate these little critters indeed and their role they play in the environment!   Happy Gardening to you all!

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