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Family Scarabaeidae is split into two main dietary groups. Dung beetles, or “scarabs,” feast on the waste of other animals. Chafer beetles eat plants. While Scarabaeidae dung beetles are not the only coprophagous beetles, they are the most significant group of dung-feeders. These “true” dung beetles belong to Scarabaeidae subfamilies Scarabaeinae and Aphodiinae.

The dung beetles are of singular interest for many reasons. They keep our planet clean of animal wastes, disperse plant seeds, improve soil quality, control pests, and serve as food for a variety of animals. They are also fun to watch. I wish to introduce many characteristics of the dung beetles, and to describe the religious significance of one species of in particular.

Dung beetles are a group whose fossils extend back only 40 million years, which makes them fairly new compared to some beetle species going back 245 million years. There are now about 7,000 dung beetle species in the Scarabaeidae family. Several thousand species live in Africa, a continent that also happens to contain many species of large herbivores producing large quantities of dung. By contrast, the United States has fewer than a dozen species which are significant in dung burial.

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Last Updated December 1, 2008