South Africa: Of Dung Beetles and Elephants

analysis

Do elephants and trees have a symbiotic relationship, or are the numbers and distribution of trees preordained? How do trees come to grow to their full and majestic size in the presence of elephants before they get pushed over?

Are the trees knocked over by elephants near the end of their lives, their roots loose like the roots of an old tooth? When a tree is pushed over, 90% of the wood is consumed by termites and returned to the ecosystem, for everything eats termites, including man.

But there is more to the story of the death and rebirth of trees than termites!

Marcus Byrne and Helen Lunn tell another part of this intricate story in their excellent book, Dance of the Dung Beetles (2019), in which they describe the recycling of elephant dung by the dung beetle. Dung beetles are also known as "Scarabs" and there are many thousands of species of Scarabaeidae in Africa. Ancient Egyptians, who accorded dung beetles a godlike status pertaining to "Death and Resurrection", buried important people with replicas of Scarabs placed on their mummified bodies. Recent research has shown that some nocturnal dung beetles use the Milky Way to orientate themselves, which is...

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