Dung Beetles in the Clouds

Photo by Bobby Watson

MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — Most people don’t look for a mate that can be smelled from a long distance.

An insect dwells on the floor in the cloud forest of Monteverde that particularly likes the pungent smell of animal feces. This animal is the dung beetle. In the world of dung beetles, the more feces a male has collected the merrier.

The male dung beetle attracts a mate by first finding a pile of dung. Once a male catches the smell of dung he will travel far distances to find it, said Ricardo Guindon, a naturalist guide in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. Once the male finds the feces, he rolls a ball from the feces with his hind legs. The hind legs are much stronger and longer than the others because they’re specifically used to roll dung.

The smell of the ball attracts females to the males, Guindon said. Females lay their eggs in the ball of dung. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae begin to eat the dung and fungus growing on the dung.

Males pretend to be dead if they feel threatened, Guindon said. The male dung beetle will pull in his antennae to make himself less vulnerable. He will also stop moving and lie completely still. Sometimes he even has to lie on top of his ball of dung.

Interesting stories can be found in the smallest creatures, but it is truly rare when they also happen to be the smelliest.

—Maggie Hardwick

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