How to Trick a Dung Beetle
Have your kids figured out that when you say “Got your nose!”, you don’t really have their nose? Is your dog tired of getting fooled by you pretending to throw a ball and then hiding it behind your back? Here’s a fun new activity that will keep you occupied for hours – tricking a dung beetle.
Wait! Don’t go! This is the result of an actual scientific study published in Nature Plants to prove that a South African plant called the restiad creates seeds which look so much like animal droppings that they fool dung beetles (Epirinus flagellatus) into rolling them to their nests and burying them, where the seeds quickly sprout and crowd the poor dung beetles out of their way so they can grow. Really!
The study was conducted at the De Hoop Nature Reserve in South Africa. Scientists spread 195 restiad (Ceratocaryum argenteum) seeds, which look and smell like animal feces, in an area populated by dung beetles. Cameras were strategically placed to record the poop practical joke. Sure enough, the dung beetles were seen rolling and burying about half of the seeds.
This practice is known as “fecal mimicry” and the researchers believe the restiad plants evolved over time to create seeds that smell like the droppings of local antelope species, such as eland and bontebok, that the dung beetles eat and lay their eggs in. The seed pods are hard so the dung beetles can’t even chew holes in them out of frustration or revenge. All they can do is go back out for real doo-doo.
So all you need to play “Trick a dung beetle” is a few dung beetles (available on all continents except Antarctica), restiad plants (primarily growing in the southern hemisphere) and some bontebok feces (native to South Africa). This could take some work but it’s more fun that faking out your dog and more educational for your kids than nasal deception.