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Friday, Sept. 6, 2002

ANIMAL TRACKER

Dung beetle


* Japanese name: Oosenchikogane
* Scientific name: Geotrupes auratus
* Description: Dung beetles are robust, powerful insects with an excellent sense of smell. They are metallic-green with a red tint and are 17-22 mm long. The antennae of this family of dung beetles end in a dull club-shape.
* Where to find them: From Hokkaido to Kyushu, April to November. Woodlands and fields are the best places to look for dung beetles -- but watch where you step.
* Food: Oosenchikogane feed on dung. Although it may seem unlikely, dung is actually rich in nutrients. The mouthparts of dung beetles are not formed in the usual biting pattern, because the food they process is soft and semiliquid. Instead of chewing, these beetles suck and strain at their food. Oosenchikogane have a preference for cow dung. The larvae eat the fiber of dung as well as the juices and have chewing mouthparts.
* Special features: To the ancient Egyptians, dung beetle larvae symbolized the god Khepri, who represented reincarnation and who, they believed, had created himself out of the raw matter of the earth. The Egyptians were not far off the mark: Dung beetles do seem to construct themselves from the earth. When they catch the scent of fresh dung, adult beetles fly toward it. Then, adults of both sexes use their powerful legs to excavate shafts in the earth beneath the dung pile and stock them with dung. After copulating, the female lays small eggs in the buried dung. When the eggs hatch, the larvae are kept safe in an underground brood chamber, with their food all around them. They feed until they are plump grubs and then pupate, emerging as adult beetles. The adults are mobile recycling machines: They bury far more dung than is eaten by the larvae, thereby providing a useful service by removing dung from the surface and aiding the return of nutrients to the soil.



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