Not all dung is equal

By Country News

Dung beetles are very picky creatures, according to a study by the University of New England.

To a dung beetle, not all dung is equal and according to UNE researcher Amrit Pal Kaur, the right dung has to be a certain consistency and smell good.

‘‘I’ve found that fresh poo juice (or poo-ju) contains a varying abundance of different smells from one-hour poo-ju, and three-hour poo-ju is totally different again,’’ Ms Pal Kaur, an insect ecologist and PhD candidate, said.

‘‘It’s the quality of these volatiles — and I’ve identified over 110 different chemical compounds — that influence where and when dung beetles feed.’’

Ms Pal Kaur is part of a team of researchers who, over the past five years, have made UNE (in Armidale, NSW) a national centre for dung beetle research.

Ms Pal Kaur’s investigation into what tantalises a dung beetle’s taste buds (or antennae) is part of a broader effort at UNE to breed and multiply dung beetles independent of seasonal cycles, so that land managers can have year-round access to these industrious nutrient recyclers.

‘‘In the winter, when their preferred food is more scarce, dung beetles generally become dormant,’’ Ms Pal Kaur said.

‘‘I’m trying to replicate the high-quality summer dung they like, which is nutritious and rich in nitrogen, and of the right consistency and moisture content for tunnelling and making broods.

‘‘If we can do that, then we might be able to help farmers to multiply their beetle numbers and guarantee their presence year-round.’’

Dung beetles dine exclusively on dung. After extracting its nutrients, they use remaining particles to make up to 23 balls (called ‘broods’) per kilogram of dung, into which they lay their eggs.

These broods are made underground, and a single beetle can bury 200 times its body weight in a single night.

In the process, the dung beetle decomposes the dung and controls fly populations, improves soil fertility and possibly even sequesters carbon.