Meet the
Dung Beetle

There are over 7000 species of dung-friendly beetles world-wide.

You’ll find these hard-working, harmless little creatures on every continent but Antarctica. Over millions of years, they have become specialists on
farmland, forest, grassland and even desert habitats. This specialist behaviour allows us to select the beetles most suitable for farmland rehabilitation.

Gods of Ancient Egypt

Many Ancient Egyptian artworks, jewellery, and hieroglyphics depict dung beetles or scarabs. They were believed to represent the restoration of life – renewing the sun each day by rolling it above the horizon. The sun god Khepri Ra is often depicted as a scarab, or a scarab-headed man.

Types of Dung Beetle

We separate dung beetles into three broad groups, according to their lifestyles.

  • 01 / Dwellers

    Dwellers live within dung pats, on the ground surface.

    01 / Dwellers  
  • 02 / Rollers

    Rollers shape dung into neat balls and then roll them away to bury away from the pat.

    02 / Rollers  
  • 03 / Tunnellers

    Tunnellers make dung balls too, but they dig tunnels beneath the pat and bulldoze the dung underground.

    03 / Tunnellers  

The best beetles for the job

When to comes to removing dung from the surface, the last group is the most effective for our conditions.
This is why Dung Beetle Innovations focuses exclusively on introducing and breeding tunneller species in New Zealand.

Why not use local beetles?

New Zealand does have endemic (native) dung beetle populations – 15 species in all (poster pdf). They are also highly specialized, but primarily for forest living.

Unfortunately, because modern farming was only introduced about 150 years ago, our local beetles have not evolved to process the dung of domesticated livestock, nor for living on grassy pastures.


Meet the beetles

We are unashamedly obsessed with dung beetles, but thought you might also like to get ‘up-close and personal’ with the beetles that are helping New Zealand restore its rivers and pastoral soils to perfect health.

(Drag the images to scroll left and right – there are 8 beetles to meet!)

Expand Dung Beetle Life Cycle
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An amazing
life cycle

The unique and fascinating life cycle of dung beetles is what makes them so helpful to farmers. In the process of using the faeces (dung) of livestock for food and reproduction, they break up dung on the surface and carry it below ground to lay eggs in.

All that remains on the surface is inedible sawdust-like dry material (chaff) that is easily dispersed and poses no health threat to animals or to the environment.

This has the added health benefit of disrupting the life cycles of livestock parasites and pests e.g. flies. Moderate to high densities of dung beetles can remove freshly voided dung from the pasture surface within 24-48 hours.

The entire life cycle may take as little as 6 weeks to complete or as long as a year, depending on the type of dung beetle and the climate.

What’s happening Underground?

  1. Tunnels

    Adult dung beetles pair up and make tunnels in the soil beneath dung deposits (up to 45 cm deep, depending on species, soil type, and moisture content).

  2. Soil casts

    Excavated soil is pushed to the surface forming soil casts underneath or at the edge of the dung pat.

  3. Egg laying

    The beetles take the dung down into the tunnels and lay their eggs in dung balls – usually one egg per ball.

  4. Grub development

    As the eggs hatch the grubs feed on the dung until they are large enough to pupate. Any uneaten dung and the waste produced by the developing grubs is utilized by grass (roots), soil microbes and earthworms.

  5. Pupation

    Depending on the species and environmental conditions, a young adult beetle may emerge several days, weeks or even months later.

  6. Starting over

    New adult dung beetles emerge from the soil and fly off in search of fresh dung, to start the cycle over again.

Our underground

Dung Beetle Innovations currently import 11 species of dung beetle. Each species has its own unique behavioral patterns and life-cycle. By introducing multiple species we can ensure that dung removal efficiency is optimized all year long, day and night, across a variety of soil types throughout New Zealand.

The Table below shows some broad preferences of the beetles DBI has available. Note that burial depths and seasonal activity can vary according to climate (top of North Island vs. bottom of South Island), soil compaction and soil type. Even body size is variable within each species and is likely due to quality of manure used for nesting.

Fast Workers

“Scientists have observed around 4,000 dung beetles converge on a fresh pile of elephant scat within 15 minutes. And they work hard too; one dung beetle can bury 250 times its own weight in a night.”

Expand: Beetle Comparision Table
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Our Dung Beetles

DBI will eventually have 11 species of dung-friendly beetles available in New Zealand.

Onthophagus binodis Southern Africa 13mm Diurnal. Late Spring to Autumn 8-10 weeks 2-3 20-30cm Sandy loam, clays
Onthophagus taurus South-west Europe, 9mm Diurnal. Spring to Autumn 8-10 weeks 2-3 10-20cm Heavy clays, loams, silts
Digitonthophagus gazella Southern Africa 11mm Dusk and dawn, Late Spring-Summer 6-8 weeks 2-3 20-30cm Clays, sand, loams
Geotrupes spiniger South-west Europe (incl. Southern England) 22mm Dusk and dawn, Autumn-winter 4 -6 months 1-2 per year 30-45cm Wet soils, clay or loams
Copris hispanus South-west Europe 22mm Nocturnal, Spring-late Autumn 3-4 months 1 20-40cm Clays, loams, silt
Copris incertus Central America 15mm Nocturnal, Spring-late Autumn 2-3 months 2 15-30cm Clays, loams
Bubas bison South-west Europe 16mm Dawn and dusk, Winter 1-2 years 1 30-110cm Clays, loams, silts
Onitis alexis Southern Africa 18mm Dawn and dusk, Summer-mid Autumn 4-6 months 1 10-30cm Clays, sand, loams