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Airdate: May 31, 2004
Scientist: David Mellow, Kevina Vulinec

In Praise of Dungbeetles

In Praise of Dungbeetles
Dung beetles of the Amazon bring new meaning to the word "recycling".

Transcript:
In Praise of Dungbeetles

Music; Ambience: dawn, rainforest, Flying Insect, Dungbeetle, fly by

JM: They're both the pooper-scoopers and the Johnny Appleseeds of the rainforest, rolled into one. Wup - there goes one right now, flying by -- it's a dung beetle. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. In the Amazon there's an estimated sixteen hundred species of dung beetles, ranging in size from a pinhead to a ping pong ball. And they're all on the lookout for, well - dung.

KV: "These dung beetles are remarkable in their ability to sense dung from a distance."

JM: Kevina Vulinec is an assistant professor at Delaware State University

KV: "They have a number of other methods for locating dung, and one of those is to actually follow the monkey troops. You'll see a monkey troop going over head, and if you wait long enough you'll see dung beetles come flying, and perching on a leaf and then flying again, one after another, following the troop of monkeys. Many of them, will just sit on leaves during the day, with their antennae, which contain chemo sensors so they can kind of smell with their antennae. And they just wait for a slight breeze and that way they can locate their food source, and then fly towards it."

KV: "Dung beetles stay with the dung once they've buried it and they do one of two things with that dung that they've buried. They'll eat it themselves, or they mate and lay and egg in the dung, and that dung then serves as the food for the offspring which will, once the egg hatches, will turn into a larvae that will use that little dung ball as it's entire source of food for it's development to adult hood, so it emerges as an adult from this little ball of dung that its mother has made."

JM: Now your typical pile of monkey dung is likely to contain seeds. And when the beetle buries his booty, he's performing the invaluable service of dispersing those seeds throughout the rainforest. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.