Dung Beetles - the 'ecosystem engineers'

14 Jan 2021. Words by Andrew Doube. Dung beetles on our farms provide huge benefits for people and the environment.  Landcare Tasmania is supporting a new project which is working to introduce new dung beetle species into Tasmania.   

Photo: Andrew Doube (left) who is leading the dung beetle introduction efforts in Tasmania 

Dung beetles are the 'ecosystem engineers' who bury the cow, horse and sheep poo!  This keeps it out of our waterways, makes the paddocks more healthy, helps the grass grow faster, and destroys gut worms that would otherwise infect the livestock.

All this saves money, and makes the environment more healthy.

Australia used to have dung beetles that were very good at burying the dung of big animals. The problem is - they went extinct with the megafauna... So when Europeans brought big animals like cattle, horses and sheep to Australia, there was a problem - too much dung lying around on the surface.

This dung washed into our rivers, polluting them, and bred huge populations of flies.

This led scientists to begin working on figuring out which dung beetles could be introduced to bury the problematic dung.  Since then, a dozen types of dung beetles have been introduced to Tasmania. This is to try and get beetles that will bury manure over our whole state, and at all times of year.

So far, three have worked well in summer, and one has worked well in autumn.  But this still leaves mid winter and spring without beetles!

Landcare Tasmania is supporting a new dung beetle program which aims to introduce a few more dung beetles to Tasmania over the coming years.



At the moment the project is working with schools, farmers and a community centre to breed a species called Onthophagus Vacca that works in the springtime. 

Funding for this project is provided through the Tasmanian Landcare Fund with support from the JM Robert's Trust.

Tasmanian Country has reported on this project on January 8, 2021:

"Work to introduce the new beetle in Tasmania is being led by Andrew Doube"

The programs have received beetles in-kind from the Dung Beetle Ecosystems Engineers Project.

"Locally, Landcare Tasmania is also providing funding to help local schools get involved in the project by running dung beetle breeding programs"

"The new Vacca beetles have an iridescent green colour and yellow speckles on wing covers.  Female beetles have two horns and males have a single horn." 

With any luck, these little beetles will breed well enough that we can release them onto farms, where they will do the important work of burying all the spring cow poo!