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Dung Beetles Are Tougher Than You Think

October 14th, 2016

During the past decade or so researchers have noticed an invasive insect that has gone largely unstudied. The invasive insect in question is known as the “bigheaded ant.” Bigheaded ants have been observed invading territory that belongs to dung beetles, and to a lesser extent termites, and a few other insects that are attracted to feces. Typically bugs do not fare well when their environment is invaded by a notoriously invasive species of insect. So the question is: how are dung beetles fairing against their new invasive ant neighbors? Can the beetles still roll dung? Have they been forced to relocate?

Unfortunately for the bigheaded ants, dung beetles are tough, and do not take kindly to uninvited guests as dung beetles are known for being territorial. The bigheaded ants, similar to the dung beetle, also seem attached to the various mounds of animal feces littering the African savannah, but dung beetles carry on with their business as though the bigheaded ants are not even there.

Dung beetles may adapt to the presence of the hostile invader ants by laying their eggs in burrows built into the pieces of dung that the beetles find and collect. By doing this, the dung beetle is able to protect its larvae from the bigheaded ants. This is impressive since bigheaded ants are known for their aggressive behavior. For example, other aggressive and resilient bugs are quickly killed as soon as the bigheaded ant shows up. Fearsome insects such as safari ants and the stinging acacia ants can not stand up to the aggression of the bigheaded ant like the dung beetle can, and this is probably as much respect as you will ever have for a bug that spends its days burrowing in feces.

What natural defenses do dung beetles have at their disposal that could help them maintain dominance over other bugs within their environment?

 

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