30 Days Wild - Day Twenty-five - Go dung diving!

By Nancy Reed

Amazing things can be found in cow pats...

A dirty secret...

I have a confession to make, an obsession to own up to…. I love dung, and all the weird and wonderful creatures that live in, on or under it. OK, so those who know me won’t be that surprised, it’s a fairly poorly kept secret, but it’s not something that one brings up in polite society! If given the chance though, I can be pretty evangelical about the secret treasures of dung, and what better chance to preach than a 30 days wild blog?

This in mind, my husband Paul and I headed to our local nature reserve, the Riddy in Sandy, where a small herd of red poll cattle are busy grazing down the sward to allow the flowers to flourish. Luckily for me, Paul is both patient and a keen naturalist, making him an easy convert to the wonders of dung, to the extent that we celebrated a wedding anniversary rooting through cow pats.

All types of dung can yield beetles, and different species prefer dung from different mammals and of different ages. Sheep dung often turns up a good number of different species, but in low numbers, whereas a good cow pat can yield well over 100 individuals but from a smaller number of species. Various different beetle families can be found, including predatory Staphalinide or rove beetles (smaller versions of devil’s coach horse beetles), specially adapted water beetles, and my favourite, the true dung beetles. When we arrive at the Riddy, we split up and start scoping out the cow pats – we can get quite competitive about finding pats with the most beetles in. I like to look for bigger, thicker pats, which have formed a crust but are still moist inside. Lots of holes on the surface are a sign that there has been a good level of beetle activity.

Today we’re just hand searching through the pats (wearing gloves of course) picking out beetles as we find them – this is the ideal technique for a casual dung beetle foray, but it is possible to take a more thorough approach and use either baited pit fall traps or the bucket technique. The latter is my favourite – it’s like a lucky dip for beetles and very easy. Simply place a pat in a bucket and add a generous slosh of water, and then wait. As water seeps into the dung and the holes and chambers created by beetles, the beetles float to the surface – magic! If you’re impatient you can help things along by stirring things with a stick.

I could give you facts and figures about the huge benefits that dung beetles bring to ecosystems, but that’s perhaps for another time – instead, I hope you’ll make time during 30 days wild  to look for the natural beauty that’s hiding in plain sight, in places you wouldn’t think to look….

A dung beetle on Nancy's hand

A dung beetle by Nancy Reed

Day 25 icon for 30 Days Wild

 

 

Ways to go wild...

Go dung diving! Make sure you have a pair of gloves with you, then head out to find a holey cow pat and see what lives inside. Take a magnifying glass and a camera phone and prepare to be amazed...