If you’ve experienced a summer safari in South Africa, you’ll readily relate to what I’m about to describe. And if you haven’t had this experience yet, it’s time to consider planning your next summer safari trip to Londolozi.
Following the first heavy rains at Londolozi, the bush bursts into vibrant life, echoing with birdsong and the incessant buzzing of insects from all directions. Among the most captivating sights upon each summer’s return is undoubtedly the presence of dung beetles. Their arrival signals the arrival of summer: driving past a heap of dung, one witnesses these plant-filled droppings pumping with life. These dung piles transform into bustling workplaces, where dozens of dung beetles vie for their portion of fresh dung.
The significance of dung beetles is often overlooked and underestimated as they hold a vital role in the ecosystem. This insect species remains vastly under appreciated, with many of us failing to grasp the intricacies within this species. Globally, there are approximately 7000 species of dung beetles, with Southern Africa showcasing the widest diversity, there are around 780 species. Dung beetles exclusively emerge during the summer post the rains when the ground becomes more pliable, allowing them to bury their dung. The efforts of male dung beetles are truly remarkable as they embark on a daily quest for fresh dung. These creatures display impressive navigational skills, swiftly detecting newly dropped dung from various host animals within minutes.
During the winter months, dung beetles undergo a dormant phase. They typically retreat to sheltered locations such as burrows or tunnels underground. During this period of colder temperatures, reduced activity prevails among dung beetles as they conserve energy and wait for warmer conditions to return. By late October or the beginning of November, a shift occurs as rangers become more vigilant about their driving, mindful of the tiny creatures possibly sharing the road with the Land Rover. Dung beetles often utilize the road to transport their dung balls away from scavenging competitors, searching for distance between themselves and other male dung beetles to secure their find. In many instances, these beetles seek to avoid rivals and predators while ideally accompanying a female dung beetle attached to the dung ball, facilitating the start of her reproductive cycle.
The dung beetles are divided into four main categories based on their behaviors regarding dung and their habitat.
- Endocoprids, also known as “dwellers,” reside and breed inside dung piles, choosing to live within the dung site itself.
- Paracoprids, referred to as “tunnellers,” bury their dung directly underneath the original dung source, utilizing it as a food supply for their larvae.
- Telecoprids, commonly recognized as “rollers,” are seen rolling dung into balls and transporting it away from the original location. They consume and bury the dung elsewhere.
- Kleptopcoprids, known as “thieves,” steal dung balls from the telecoprids. They lay their eggs inside these stolen balls, exploiting the effort of the rollers for their reproduction.
Certainly, searching for the renowned “Big Five” and encountering predators at Londolozi stands atop the wish list for both guests and staff. However, the wilderness here holds a multitude of equally intriguing and often more complex aspects than what initially meets the eye. Beyond these iconic sightings, there exists a fascinating world filled with the most beautiful examples of nature. The busy scenes near an elephant dung pile or a rhino midden reveal a hive of activity orchestrated by small creatures. Taking a moment during your drive to pause and appreciate these dung beetles diligently working towards their survival is an opportunity to delve into the hidden marvels of nature.