News and blog The FWAG SouthWest Blog A dung beetle walks into a bar… “is this stool taken?” If you asked someone to describe a dung beetle, they would probably paint a picture of a shiny black beetle rolling a ball of dung across a desert. While this type, known as rollers, are common in warmer climates of the southern hemisphere, we have dwellers, tunnellers and stealers making up 60 species here in the UK. Why should we care about dung beetles? Well, they provide multiple benefits to pastures. They rely completely on dung as a food source, foraging in fresh dung to feed young or taking it down below the soil surface as deep as a metre. Because of this, they are important players in recycling nutrients and improving soil structure and organic matter. Their activity encourages earthworms, which enhances these processes further. Dung beetles are fast to act on fresh dung and significantly reduce the presence of dung pads in just a few days. This provides benefits to the sward, by limiting patches of grass death and grazing avoidance areas around it. Parasite burdens to livestock within pastures are also reduced because the dung beetles reduce the suitability of dung pads for larvae and break the life cycle. Changes in land management have put many dung beetle species at risk. Cultivations and loss of permanent pastures to shorter-term leys and arable rotations disrupt their life cycle and disturb the soil. Changes in livestock diets, including fibre content, alters dung consistency which can make dung pats less habitable for them. The use of fertilisers and parasite treatments also harm these insects. What can you do to support dung beetles on your farm? Here are a few suggestions that can help, plus providing wider benefits to the farm business and ecosystem. Consider areas of permanent pasture across your holding and ensure they’re well connected. Think about grass species, consider over-sowing or using a more diverse seed mix if re-seeding to add fibre into the diet. This sward diversity will also provide minerals and trace elements in livestock diet and increased crop resilience. Hedges and silvopasture don’t only offer shelter for livestock but also provide shady habitats which are favoured by some dung beetle species. Carry out Faecal Egg Counting to move towards less reliance on wormers, to improve animal health and to reduce business costs. The website Dung Beetles for Farmers has some “how to” videos on surveying for dung beetles on your farm. Click here for more information and let us know how you get on! Dor Beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius) image ©Tom Lee Dwellers (AKA endocprids, Aphodius species) make up two-thirds of UK dung beetle species. They live in the dung or just below the soil surface, laying their eggs here and feeding off the dung. In this group, the beetles are typically 2-15mm in size. Tunnellers (AKA paracoprids, Onthophagis, Geotrupes and Typhaeus species) dig tunnels below the dung pads. Some species live in the tunnels and lay there eggs here, other species live in the dung but create tunnels. Both types take small pieces of dung into the tunnel and are responsible for recycling nutrients and redistributing bacteria and fungi. These species are larger in size, 6-25mm. Stealers (AKA kleptocoprids) do exactly as their name suggests and take dung (food stocks) from other species or use their nest sites.