My gift to myself for my 29th Birthday was a tattoo of a dung beetle.
I had intended this tattoo to be about so many things. I began 2020, literally on New Years Day, talking about the dung beetle. It is one of my favorite animals and it is sadly facing extinction. It is one of those animals that everyone on earth relies on, whether they know it or not. You may have recently found out how much you rely on the cute, fuzzy honeybees or those gorgeous butterflies for pollinators; but people rarely realize how intertangled they are with the dung beetle.
This was my Environmental Science teacher’s crusade in high school; how people would bend over backwards to save pandas because they are cute, but won’t save the animals that hold the entire ecosystem on their backbone AKA the dung beetle.
Dung beetles are considered keystone species because of their role in decomposition, seed dispersal, and control of vertebrate parasites in grazed habitats. A keystone species plays a similar role in its ecosystem as a keystone plays in arch. The keystone is under the least pressure of any of the stones in an arch; however, if removed, the arch will collapse. Similarly, an ecosystem may experience a dramatic shift if a keystone species is removed, even if that species was a small part of the ecosystem by measures of biomass.
Dung beetles act as little dung rolling essential workers, aerating and mixing soil by burrowing, while increasing the organic matter content of the soil by burying dung. They create the all-important layer of topsoil that provides nutrients and enables our plants to grow. “In cattle pastures, they’ve been known to bury more than 80 percent of the dung pats. At the same time, they loosen and nourish the soil, improve its ability to hold water, prevent the plants under the cow pies from dying, and keep the fly population down, all of which keep pastures and cattle healthy and growing. They keep air pollution down, as well – researchers have found that some dung beetles reduce the methane emitted by cow pies by 40 percent.” (https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/latin-america/stories-in-latin-america/biodiversity-dung-beetle/)
Dung beetles serve as an eternal reminder to be good stewards of the earth and that waste to some may be considered vital to others.
Some dung beetles choose to make a home in their dung, others choose to lay their eggs there. The ancient Egyptians considered them sacred because they believed they could reproduce asexually (turns out it was badass females laying the eggs, big surpriseeeee).
They are often thought of in the context of duality, old and new, life and death. They (the living being) rolling balls of decay, in order to lay their eggs in them, and then die. You would think these little creatures must be pretty unintelligent because they roll dung for a living, BUT YOU WOULD BE WRONG.
Just when you thought the dung beetle couldn’t be any cooler, it turns out they navigate using the Milky Way. Researchers in Sweden discovered dung beetles can record a mental image of the positions of the Sun, the Moon and the stars and use the snapshot to navigate. The beetles capture the picture of the sky while doing their classic “dance” on a ball of manure.
2020 was a shit year for everyone. We all lost something precious to us and had to adjust to a new normal. I want to honor and remember that with this dung beetle tattoo. Look for the parts of the shit to treasure, dance on it, and keep on rollin’.
*Humanity would cease to exist without these incredible creatures and I am honored to wear one on my arm. Dung beetles are quickly disappearing because of the pharmaceuticals used on animals in factory farming environments. If you want to know how to save the dung beetle, stop eating meat! If you can’t commit to that, please buy your meat from a non-factory farm. These farms do so much harm beyond the horrific practices they put the animals through.*