Dung Beetles, Cattle, and Global Warming

Dung Beetle

Dung Beetle

Your Curmudgeon’s favorite insect — the Dung beetle — is once again in the news. Our last post about these noble but unappreciated creatures was Dung Beetles Navigate by the Stars, and that post links to a few others, including one you shouldn’t miss: Intelligent Design: The Dung Beetle’s Tale.

We are always searching for news about these splendid fellows and today, in PhysOrg, we read: Beetles modify emissions of greenhouse gases from cow pats. That’s our kind of story! Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Cattle contribute to global warming by burping and farting large amounts of greenhouse gases. Some of the same gases are also emitted from cow pats on pastures.

Vulgar beasts! And this is where the blessed beetles come in:

But now researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that beetles living in cow pats may reduce emissions of the key greenhouse gas – methane.

We are overjoyed. Our beloved dung beetles are going to save the planet. Let’s read on:

Agriculture is one of the biggest sources of the anthropogenic greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Among these, cattle farming for meat and milk are major sources of methane, a gas with a potent warming effect. Much of this methane comes from the guts of ruminating cattle, but some escapes from dung pats on pastures.

Agriculture may destroy us all, but there’s hope. We continue:

Now researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that beetles living in the cow pats may reduce emissions of methane. The study has just been published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Here’s the published article, which you can read online without a subscription: Quantifying Beetle-Mediated Effects on Gas Fluxes from Dung Pats. Back to PhysOrg:

Atte Penttilä, who undertook the study for his Masters, explains: “Cow pats offer a prime food for a large number of organisms. In fact, there are probably as many beetle species living in dung as there are bird species on this planet.

We delight in bringing you such information. Here’s more:

Of the dung beetles living in Northern Europe, most spend their entire lives within the dung pats. “We believe that these beetles exert much of their impact by simply digging around in the dung. Methane is primarily born under anaerobic conditions, and the tunneling by beetles seems to aerate the pats. This will have a major impact on how carbon escapes from cow pats into the atmosphere.”

What wondrous insects they are! Moving along:

[Tomas Roslin, head of the research team said:] “If the beetles can keep those methane emissions down, well then we should obviously thank them – and make sure to include them in our calculations of overall climatic effects of dairy and beef farming.

Climate scientists, pay attention! The dung beetle is your friend. But then the PhysOrg article ends on an ominous note:

“Overall, the effects that we found are intriguing, but the implications also quite worrying”, says Eleanor Slade, a researcher commuting between teams working on dung beetles in both Helsinki and Oxford. “When you combine the current increase in meat consumption around the world with the steep declines in many dung beetle species, overall emissions from cattle farming can only increase.

Of all the crises facing our world, this may be the worst. Global warming caused by cattle emissions may be a worse fate than the Lake of Fire. We must save the dung beetle!

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Dung Beetles, Cattle, and Global Warming

  1. Reblogged this on The Road.

  2. Doctor Stochastic

    Explaining why they were sacred to the Egyptians. Also the Z-Car with the Corvette engine.

  3. Doctor Stochastic says: “they were sacred to the Egyptians.”

    Escher drew dung beetles: Scarabs.

  4. I so fart in your general direction.

  5. As a kid on my grandparents’ ranch, dung beetles were endlessly entertaining to watch. Little did I know that the fellows were busy fighting global warming.

    I wonder if cattle produce different amounts of methane depending on the food that they eat – that is, do corn fed feedlot cows pollute more than grass fed cows? Also, there are probably very few dung beetles in feedlots.

  6. Article quotes Tomas Roslin:

    “If the beetles can keep those methane emissions down, well then we should obviously thank them”

    Hear, hear! Indeed, we must thank them earnestly!


    At the very least, we must construct a massive commemorative Hall of Dung in their honour: a vast structure far, far grander than the celebrated Boll Weevil Monument of Enterprise, AL, and sited on that epicentre of methane production, 208 Columbia Street, Seattle, WA.

    Who’s going to raise the petition on the White House for this vital project?

  7. And, by small token of my personal gratitude to the Dung Beetle, I humbly submit the following proposed lyrics for a Dung Beetle Anthem:

    I’ve been gnawin’ on a cow pat,
    All the live-long day!
    I’ve been gnawin’ on a cow pat,
    Just to keep methane at bay!
    Can’t you feel the faecal droppings
    O’er us so very freshly flung!
    Can’t you hear ole Westie shrieking,
    “Casey, blog more dung!”

    Casey, won’t you blog?
    Casey won’t you blog?
    Casey won’t you blog more du-u-u-ng?
    Casey, won’t you blog?
    Casey won’t you blog?
    Casey won’t you blog more dung?

    Someone’s in the bathroom with Casey,
    Someone’s in the bathroom, I know,
    Someone’s in the bathroom with Casey,
    Streamin’ on a video!

    A-bloggin’ fee, lie, fiddly-i-o!
    Fee, lie, fiddly-i-o- o – o – o!
    Fee, lie, fiddly-i-o!
    Sneaky ole video!

  8. Tundra Boy does the Canadian thing in my general direction.

    I have two observations: First, with all the glaciers and tundra in your frigid homeland, there are probably no dung beetles, so you are all hip-deep in walrus poop and caribou droppings. Second, being so near the North Pole, everything you do is in my general direction.

  9. Megalonyx presents the lyrics for the Dung Beetle Anthem.

    Beautiful! Brings tears to my Curmudgeonly eyes. When I build the Dung Beetle Museum (we only need to raise another $100 million, your prayers are appreciated), complete with a display of Adam & Eve producing food for the little darlings, your music will be drifting over the visiting multitudes as they work their way to the Dung Beetle Gift Shop.

  10. Methane-curbing beetles? Yoko Ono called, demanding her green credits…

  11. Methane-curbing? I thought the other lot were methamphetamine-imbibing….

  12. Megalonyx mentions methane. And that reminds me of another tidbit that Olivia disclosed to me. She says that among his other repulsive peculiarities, he’s a methane-o-phile.

  13. SC, there is in existence a model on which you can base your Dung Beetle Museum. See the description at http://whatever.scalzi.com/2007/11/12/your-creation-museum-report/ , especially
    Here’s how to understand the Creation Museum:
    … And so this guy who loves this load of horses**t decides that he’s going to do something; he’s going to give it a home. And not just any home, because as this is no ordinary load of horses**t, so must its home be no ordinary repository for horses**t. And so the fellow builds a temple for his load of horses**t. …

  14. You wonder how much fast-food restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King aggravated the problem. Millions of methane producing cattle bred solely to feed millions of people.

  15. Cows contribute nothing to global warming. All that methane was obtained by removing carbon from the atmosphere. Only when cows eat fossile fule will they contribute to global warming.

  16. Howard, you’re kidding, right? … Right? Or did you just calve?

  17. Our Curmudgeon maliciously–and falsely–slanders me:

    he’s a methane-o-phile

    The proper term is Eproctophile — but I am innocent, m’lud!

  18. Megalonyx has added to my store of knowledge. There’s actually a Wikipedia article on Eproctophilia.

  19. There are many species of dung beetles and they have attracted a lot of studies. Among the interesting attributes of the insects are: use the milky way for navigating in a straight line at night, use the ball as a thermal refuge, are biological control agents for horn flies and intestinal parasites, feed on monkey feces in trees, become endothermic while flying or pushing the ball, show interesting patterns of sexual selection among females, etc.

  20. Welcome back, Victor. It’s good to see a fellow dung beetle fancier.